President’s Pick The Wilds of Chile’s Northern Patagonia

President's Picks | Big Five Tours

Anyone who has traveled Chile has likely experienced the must-see areas. But this long strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean presents us with a wealth of off-the-beaten-trail encounters  that encompass incredible scenery, a wealth of cultures and a unique history for us to discover. This journey urges us to explore less-traveled areas that have withstood the test of time.

Ashish Sanghrajka

 

While the world has been changing, we have been exploring.

 

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President’s Picks

STARTING AT..

Price starts at 1390. Land per person, per day, double occupancy.

TOUR LENGTH

17

Tour Highlights/Full Description

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  • A private boat to explore the spectacular Marble Caves on Lake General Carrera, partially submerged and formed over centuries, resulting in a dazzling array of colors
  • Watch the sun rise and the majestic condor take flight at Las Condoreras
  • Trek through Queulat National Park to the ‘Hanging Glacier”, so impressive that it is visible from the Carretera Austral highway
  • Drive north along the Austral highway for a stay at a 360,000 acre estancia to experience some of the best dry fly-fishing in South America
  • Fly to Easter Island to discover this unique island culture and its mysterious, giant stone-carved moai

Day 1:  Santiago, Chile
Depart on an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile.

Day 2: Santiago
Welcome to Chile! On arrival in Santiago, clear immigration, collect luggage and proceed through customs. Continue to the arrivals hall where you are met by a representative from Big Five Tours & Expeditions holding a sign with your last name. You are greeted, assisted with your luggage, and escorted to the waiting vehicle for the 30-minute drive to your hotel for a one-night stay.  Your room will be available for immediate occupancy. Standard check-in time is 3:00 PM. After lunch, join your guide for a visit to Chile’s largest farmer’s market, La Vega Central, housing more than 500 stalls that vibrate with the brilliance of the country’s agricultural bounty: fat yellow onions stuffed in mesh sacks, comically gigantic ears of corn, squash in every shape and hue; persimmons, custard apples, and other fragrant fruits; wild potatoes from Chile’s Chiloe Island ranging in color from pale yellow to saturated scarlet and a purple that verges on black. It is the best place in the country to get to know the universe of Chilean food—and a foodie’s paradise. Continue to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos). The museum is dedicated to commemorating the victims of human rights violations during the civic-military regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. The museum pays tribute to the thousands of lives lost during this time through photographs of victims, video coverage of protesters, a host of legal documents, letters, and artifacts from the late 20th century.

You will then explore Barrios Brazil and Yungay, home to some of the most beautifully colored mansions and picturesque cobbled stoned streets. This was once home to the high-class members of Chilean society until the 1940’s when the aristocracy moved to the eastern part of the city. Barrio Brazil offers pictorial alleys and squares, such as Concha y Toro Street and the beautiful fountains at plazoleta.  The day ends at El Emporio la Rosa, an artisanal ice cream shop that offers delicious and rarely found flavors of ice cream like rose, garlic, and pepper. It has been named one of the top 25 ice-cream shops in the world. Le Reve Boutique Hotel – Delux Terrace Room 

Day 3: Santigo / Balmaceda / Cerro Castillo
After breakfast, you are transferred to the Santiago airport and assisted with check-in procedures for your flight to Balmaceda. On arrival, collect luggage and proceed to the arrivals hall where you are met, assisted with your luggage, and escorted to the waiting vehicle for the 1-hour transfer to your lodge in Cerro Castillo. This new lodge is situated on the shores of a secluded lake on private property, just 20 minutes from Cerro Castillo village. The lake’s pure transparent waters are teeming with brown and rainbow trout and abundant bird life on its surface and in the surrounding forests. In the heart of the Carretera Austral, Cerro Castillo National Park spans 444,000 acres of not only wild and extreme nature but also preservation areas for important species of flora and fauna. It is one of the most scenic areas in Patagonia with amazing views to the iconic Castillo mountain range and its main peak “Cerro Castillo”. Castillo in Spanish means castle, and the mountain’s name originates from the towers or columns that resemble a castle. The area is located in a transitional zone between temperate rain forest and more arid pampas to the east so in a very short distance you can visit completely different environments, providing a good opportunity for photographers, birdwatchers and hikers or anybody that enjoys nature.

Thousands of years ago, in what it’s now the national park, the land was completely covered in glaciers. After they melted, valleys and trails began to appear, and they are now living proof of the passing of time through its natural, geological and volcanic changes. Since 1970 when this area received the title of National Reserve, Cerro Castillo has transformed into the best place for spotting huemules, a native and endemic species of deer. Despite being a protected species in danger of extinction, the population of huemules in Cerro Castillo has been constantly increasing. Other species that live in the area are the guanaco, the culpeo fox, the Andean condor, the puma, the pudú (the second smallest deer in the world) and the colorful kingfisher. It’s impossible to ignore the beautiful landscape of the region, with native forests filled with Lenga beech and Coigue trees. This is the perfect place for those who love nature photography with spectacular and dramatic landscapes. The area also attracts those with an interest in outdoor pursuits such as trekking, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, fly-fishing, mountain biking, and birdwatching. The park has different trails that were created by the first settlers of the region.

After lunch at the lodge, discuss your interest with your guide. You can explore on foot with a walk along the trails that start from the lodge, take a quiet boat ride on the private lake, or cast your line for a few hours of great fishing. Dinner served at the lodge. Laguna Larga Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 4: Cerro Castillo / Puerto Rio Tranquilo / Cerro Castillo
Early this morning, join your guide for the 2-hour, 45-minute drive along the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. This scenic route offers endless miles of natural beauty and captures the hearts of intrepid drivers and cyclists with its pristine landscapes and possibly the freshest air in the world. On arrival at Puerto Rio Tranquilo, board a small private motorboat for the navigation to the Marble Chapel to explore the beautiful vibrant blue caverns that are partially submerged in the equally stunning turquoise waters of the lake.  Infinite formations of water-eroded marble against the turquoise waters of the lake, and the change in sunlight reflecting in the water and abundant vegetation growing on the rocks, give rise to a variety of colors. The lake sits on the border of Argentina and Chile, with the caves on the Chilean side. Three main caverns: the Chapel (La Capilla), the Cathedral (La Catedral), and the Cave (La Cueva) make up the majority of the system. After a stop to enjoy your box lunch, transfer three hours back to your lodge.  Laguna Larga Lodge – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 5: Cerro Castillo / Coyhaique
Early this morning, embark on a hike or a bike ride along the trails departing from the lodge. You may want to try your luck fishing on the lake or snap a few photos taking advantage of the gorgeous morning light.  Return to the lodge for lunch and then transfer 90-minutes northwest along the Carretera Austral to your hotel in Coyhaique for a one-night stay.  Settle in and then join your guide for tour of Coyhaique beginning in the residential area followed by a stop at the lookout of Piedra del Indio. Continue to Plaza del Pionero to see the Monument to the Shepard and then to the handicraft market located in front of the Main Square. If you prefer to immerse yourself in nature, you can explore a reserve located a few miles southwest of town.

This 6,595-acres preserve is on the road to Puerto Aysén and is a great place to hike through native forest. From the ranger station, you will commence a trek to Laguna Verde (green lagoon). Depending on your preference and time permitting, there are a few longer trails, which venture through native forests, offering the opportunity for wildlife photography and panoramic views of the surrounding area and city below. Dinner served at the hotel.  Nomades Hotel Boutique – River-view Room (B,L,D)

Day 6: Coyhaique / Queulat
Your adventure continues with an early morning transfer to a large Patagonian estancia, heading east while the first rays of the sun begin to appear in the horizon. On arrival, you will drive through the internal roads arriving at dawn to “Las Condoreras”. Once here, you will quietly walk along a small path towards a steep rock formation where a family of Andean condors spend the night. Condors need ascending air currents in order to glide and these originate as the first rays of morning sun heat the air. You will watch as these majestic birds take flight and photograph them as they fly above. Your guide will explain how to differentiate them by sex and age and discuss their feeding and reproduction habits.

Return to your vehicle for the drive back towards Coyhaique. On the way you will appreciate a dramatic change in vegetation from the arid open steppes, transitional bush land to a fully developed temperate rain forest. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant and then return to your hotel to collect your luggage. The drive continues north for 3 hours along the beautiful southern road to your lodge in Queulat for a two-night stay. Along the way, admire the beautiful vistas of rivers, forests, blue lakes and rivers. You will pass by the small villages of Mañihuales and Amengual where you can appreciate the local culture and way of life. Once at the lodge, settle into your private cottage overlooking the temperate rain forest and mountains. Dinner at the lodge. Posada Queulat – Cottage (B,L,D)

Day 7: Queulat
This morning, join your guide for a zodiac ride across the Queulat River for a hike within the lodge’s property to the “wild waterfall”. You will walk along the trail towards the heart of the coastal temperate rain forest, which exists in only five other areas of the world. Of all the forests on earth, this one has the largest variety of trees. During the hike, you will cross a section of the forest where very large trees will remind you of pillars in a natural cathedral including the Arrayanes which grows straight up to 82 ft. You will be joined by the forest birds – Chucaos, Hued Hueds, hummingbirds, Rayaditos, and many other species, some of them endemic to Chile. The trail climbs up to 230 ft. high to the first viewpoint, then to 295 ft. high to the second viewpoint, to finally reach the highest viewpoint at 394 ft. high with a spectacular view to the fjord. The entire excursion is three hours roundtrip. If you feel like it, you can add an additional stretch of trail, which will take you to the beach by the fjord, adding an extra hour to the whole excursion. Return to the lodge with the afternoon at leisure. Posada Queulat – Cottage (B,L,D)

Day 8: Queulat / Coyhaique
Join your guide for the 2-hour drive to Queulat National Park for a visit to the Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier). Queulat means ‘’Sound of Waterfalls’’ in the Chono people’s language. This park was first seen in the 18th century by Jesuits searching for the mythical City of the Caesars. Today, Queulat National Park, near Puyuhuapi, is admired by thousands of visitors each year, who are attracted by its beautiful evergreen and Andean Patagonian forests, its waterfalls, fjords, jagged rock walls, abundant rivers, and famous hanging glacier or ‘’Ventisquero Colgante’’ which can be spotted from the Carretera Austral. During the drive, admire the landscapes of the Carretera Austral Norte, surrounded by wonderful mountains and fast flowing rivers. En route, feel free to ask your guide to stop to take pictures at any of the many interesting spots or when you happen upon a gaucho on horseback or an oxcart. On arrival at the park, commence a two-mile trek along the “Morrena” trail with an incline of approximately 660 ft. to the viewpoint. Here you will have a spectacular view of the glacier.  Continue hiking for another hour along the “Laguna Tempanos” trail (iceberg lagoon trail) through lush native forests to the mouth of the lagoon with views of the glacial colored waters of the lagoon against the lush temperate rain forest and the blue ice of the glacier. Return to your vehicle, enjoy your lunch, and then continue the 90-minute drive to Estancia de los Rios for a three-night stay.

Estancia de Los Rios is a vast 360,000-acre ranch located in the foothills of the southern Andes Mountains. Its location between the mountains and the arid pampas to the east allows for a large variety of environments. It is one of the largest remaining working ranches in Patagonia today with 30,000 head of sheep and 5,000 head of cattle. The gauchos (Patagonian cowboys), take care of a group of cattle or sheep in remote corners of the ranch.  The different environments, landscapes, and its strong and unique local culture makes this place a must visit. Your host, Marcelo Dufflocq, is an expert fly fisherman, avid horseback rider, and accomplished photographer. He is very excited to have the opportunity to show you his favorite places within the ranch. Your program will be designed based on your interests, the local climatic conditions, and the gauchos’ activities. Fishing equipment will be provided. Estancia De Los Rios – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 9: Coyhaique
After breakfast at the lodge, head to the upper Cisnes River valley to “El Pucho” where you can appreciate vast open spaces against the pure blue sky. Here the sky and its unique cloud formations are truly a work of art where the Aguila Mora (Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle) is the queen and the Andean Condor is king.  After a morning exploring this remote corner of the ranch, return to the lodge for lunch. Late afternoon as the sun sets in the west, admire the changing light and cloud formations. Enjoy the fantastic views and landscapes full of form and color. Estancia De Los Rios – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 10: Coyhaique
After an early breakfast at the lodge, join your guide for the drive to the beautiful Magdalena Valley, located to the north of the ranch. En route, stop by the ranch’s headquarters to visit the shearing shed and to talk with a few of the local gauchos. The building dates to the early 1900’s when the ranch was first settled by Welch sheep farmers who leased the ranch from the Chilean government.  The dim lightning on a place full of traditions and varied naturally aged structures and textures give the photographer a special setting to capture interesting images.  You will then walk along the shores of Magdalena Lake where if you are lucky, you can find brightly colored flamingoes among a variety of other water birds. Continue the drive to a high lookout point for a fantastic view of the beautiful Magdalena Valley set against the snowcapped Andes Mountains in the background.

Visit the gauchos post and possibly join them for a mate session. Mate is an infusion that is widely drank in Patagonia in a traditional way where a server, usually the homeowner, passes the gourd with mate, hot water, and the straw, around to each member of the group.  It is a social experience where conversations are shared, and people get to know each other around a fire or wood-burning stove. If you say “gracias” when handing the gourd back to the server, he or she interprets that you don’t want another round. If you hand over the gourd, the server will refill it with hot water and serve it to the next person until it’s your turn again. Return to the vehicle for the drive to a meandering creek where you can cast your line for trout and cook them for lunch paired with a delicious Chilean wine or beer.  Take in one of the most spectacular and remote landscapes in Patagonia, a true privilege that only a few people have enjoyed. On your way back to the lodge, visit the nearby falls in a very remote corner of the estancia.  Estancia De Los Rios – Standard Room (B,L,D)

Day 11: Coyhaique / Balmaceda / Santiago
At a pre-arranged time, join your guide for the 5-hour drive to the Balmaceda airport to check-in for your flight to Santiago. OPTIONAL Charter flight from the local airstrip (30 minutes from the lodge) to the Balmaceda airport. On arrival in Santiago, collect luggage and proceed to the arrivals hall where you are met and escorted to your hotel, adjacent to the airport, for a one-night stay. Holiday Inn Santiago Airport – Standard Room (B,L)

Day 12: Santiago / Easter Island
After breakfast, you are met and escorted to the airport and assisted with check-in procedures for your flight to Easter Island. On arrival, you are met by a representative from explora Rapa Nui who will assist with your luggage and escort you to the waiting vehicle for the transfer to the lodge for a three-night stay. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and home to a culture whose origins are still unknown, Easter Island is an attractive and mysterious destination. Its maximum length is 15 miles and its maximum width is only 7.5 miles. A year-round moderate climate allows visitors to trek around the island during any season. Walking tours of the island are not excessively strenuous, and they feature views of the ahus along the coast that contain the famous giant sculptures known as moais. Who erected these sculptures, and when and why has never been solved. You will visit archeological and religious sites, spectacular volcanoes, coastlines and cliffs. In addition to excursions, all meals, an open bar (soft drinks, mineral water, juices, house wines, beer and liquors), use of the hotel’s facilities, and transfers to and from the airport are included. All excursions are provided on a shared basis. Explora Rapa Nui – Varua Room (B,L,D)

Days 13-14: Easter Island
Two full days of guided explorations to discover the mysterious moais of Easter Island, mute witnesses of its turbulent history, the town of Hanga Roa and the calm beaches of Anakena and Ovahe. The island has been inhabited for centuries, and the moais were erected hundreds of years ago. It is known that the numerous tribes who lived on the island fought amongst themselves, but it is not known why they destroyed many of the formerly standing moais. On foot, bicycle, or boat, explora offers more than 30 excursions that will unveil the island’s unique history and charm.  Rapa Nui – Varua Room (B,L,D)

Day 15: Easter Island / Santiago
At a pre-arranged time, a representative from Explora Rapa Nui will transfer you to the airport to check-in for your flight to Santiago.  On arrival, collect luggage and proceed to the arrivals hall where you are met, assisted with your luggage, and escorted to the waiting vehicle for transfer to your hotel for a two-night stay. Le Reve Hotel Boutique  – Deluxe Terrace Room (B)

Day 16: Santiago / Valaraiso / Santiago
After breakfast, join your guide for the 90-minute drive to Valparaiso, located on the Pacific coast. Here you will experience the renaissance of Chile’s most attractive city, with its many hills, photogenic houses, and thriving gastronomic and cultural scenes. Your exploration will begin on Errazuriz Street where examples of early 20th century British influenced architecture can be seen. Proceed to the 21 of May viewpoint with its excellent vistas of the colorful hillside houses, the port and across the whole bay. Board the Artilleria elevator (funicular) for the descent followed by a short trolley ride to Concepción Hill. Here you will rejoin your vehicle who will transfer you a few short blocks. Stroll through the alleyways to board the Los Perales funicular, descending Concepción Hill that leads to Sotomayor Plaza where you will find a monument dedicated to a few Chilean heroes.  After a stop for lunch, discuss your interests with your guide. Le Reve Hotel Boutique  – Deluxe Terrace Room (B)

Day 17: Santiago, Chile / Depart
Morning at leisure. At a pre-arranged time this afternoon, join your guide for a B-side culinary tour of Santiago. During this excursion, you will not only see the highlights of the city, but will discover its hidden secrets, with a focus on food. You will visit picadas, simple restaurants that pass the three Bs test: bueno (good), bonito (nice), and barato (affordable). Stops will be made at three classic restaurants that serve up the generous portions of the best typical Chilean dishes at a great price. All of the restaurants have long traditions, history, and local culture infused in their food. You will have the chance to taste two dishes at each location and what a typical Chilean would call their favorite dish or have at a family gathering. Some of these include the arrollado huaso (pork roll, peasant style) or pork shoulder, fish, seafood, sandwiches, soups, and dessert all served with traditional drinks. You are transferred to the Santiago airport and assisted with check-in procedures for your international flight. (B,L)

Per Diem

Price starts from US$1,390 per person per day, land only, double occupancy. Excluding regional flight

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