Chile Tour Itinerary

Days 1 & 2

En Route / Santiago, Chile / San Pedro de Atacama

Fly independently to Santiago, Chile. On arrival you will be assisted with your transfer for your flight to San Pedro de Atacama. Check into the Hotel Altiplanico, our home for three nights. After lunch, our small-group heads to the Valle de la Luna. Taking advantage of the dramatic sunset, visit the striking ensemble of silica formations and extensive dunes. (Meals Aloft, L,D)

atacama flamingos


Day 3

Valle de la Muerta / Chaxa

Enjoy a pre-dawn excursion to the Valle de la Muerte, with time to set up our equipment and take advantage of sunrise to shoot the enormous mineral sculptures formed by the wind and rain. After breakfast and lunch back at the hotel, head to Chaxa and Tebiquinche Lagoons, part of the Salar de Atacama. One of the largest saltpans in the world and a magnet for flamingoes, this is one of the few places you can observe up to three species: Puna, Chilean and James, the rarest flamingo in the world. Spend sunset at Laguna Tebiquinche to enjoy another splendid photo session. The crust of this salt pan is reminiscent of the topography of a ploughed field in some areas, while the salt crystal formations are perfectly flat and smooth in others. (B,L,D)

Day 4

Salar de Talar / Miscanti & Miñiques

Both the Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques lakes are surrounded by an amphitheater of striking volcanoes and are home to one of the few remaining breeding populations of the horned coot. This is a prime location for observing and photographing high-altitude birdlife such as Andean tinamou, lesser rhea, golden-spotted ground-dove, mountain parakeet, red-backed sierra-finch and more. There are great panoramic photo opportunities of the turquoise-colored lake and the soft textures of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. (B,L,D)

horned coot

Day 5

Tatio Geyser Fields / Santiago

Spend our morning exploring the El Tatio Geysers, one of the world’s highest glacier fields. This bizarre landscape features clouds of steam, cones of crystalized silica and salts, and ponds of boiling pastel mud. In this extreme environment, a few hearty plants and animals have adapted to life. Be immersed in the culture of this remote region during a visit to the pre-Hispanic village of Chiu-Chiu (time permitting). Continue toward Calama, where we will take our flight back to Santiago. Spend tonight at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 6

Santiago / Punta Arenas

After breakfast, board our flights to Punta Arenas. Our first stop is the Otway Magellanic penguin rookery, learning about Patagonia’s most common penguin species. Your Patagonia tour guide will discuss the breeding and feeding patterns of this endemic penguin. As we walk the paths around the Otway Sound, birding enthusiasts will want to watch for local songbirds, including Austral canastero, grass wren, long-tailed meadowlark, Chilean flamingo and a selection of southern ducks. A treat for birding enthusiasts, not only will you photograph penguins today, but we also stop at Palomares Hill, a roosting site for Andean condors! Our talented guides are experienced birders and bring along spotting scopes to help you observe condors in the field, flying and resting on the cliffs. Stop at a private gaucho farm, to enjoy a traditional asado al palo barbecue lunch. It’s a great chance to learn about the way of life of people who have lived in Patagonia for generations. Learn how our host and other gauchos have fared for generations in the unforgiving landscape, still tending to sheep and cattle, and chasing off the occasional puma. Spend tonight at Hotel Rey Don Felipe. (B,L,D)

king penguins

Day 7


A ferry takes us across the legendary waters of the Straits of Magellan to the small town of Porvenir. These seaways are an integral part of maritime history, with names like Magellan, Drake, Cavendish, Bougainville, Fitz Roy, Darwin and other explorers adding to the lore. On our crossing, see an array of seabirds, including black-browed albatross, Southern giant petrel, Southern fulmar, king cormorant, dolphin gull and South American tern. Lucky guests may also see pods of Peale's dolphin and inquisitive South American sea lions. Take advantage of the journey to survey the landscapes of Tierra del Fuego, dominated by wind-swept steppes, tussock grasses and low shrubs. Check into Hosteria Yendegaia, where our welcoming hosts serve coffee, tea and snacks while we relax. Set out along the shores of Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay), seeing guanaco, Southern grey fox, upland goose, Chilean flamingo and other waterfowl. Arrive at the private Parque Pinguino Rey, where we visit the world’s most accessible colony of king penguins. Taking advantage of excellent feeding conditions, king penguins began breeding here year-round, and IE guests enjoy opportunities to observe and photograph the penguins. (B,L,D)

Day 8

Punta Arenas / Puerto Natales

Board the ferry back across the Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas. En route to Puerto Natales, visit the Milodon Cave Nature Reserve. The cave, a massive cavity within conglomerate rock, was once used as a shelter for a variety of Pleistocene mammals, including the giant sloth. Our local guide will discuss the area’s long-extinct wildlife during an engaging field discussion before we stop by the small interpretation center. Discover other minor caves near Benitez Hill, a rare opportunity to see the shelters used by paleo-Indian. The nearby trail takes us through beech woodlands, where we watch for raptors and soaring condors. Your naturalist guide will also point out the Chilean firebush, a Protea-related tree/bush, whose flowers paint the hillsides in incredible shades of scarlet. Spend two nights at Hotel Remota. (B,L,D)

king penguins

Day 9

Balmaceda Glacier / Bernardo O’Higgins National Park / Serrano Glacier

Board our small ship for a Patagonia cruise through the maze of islands, channels and glaciers of Chile’s fjords. Navigate smooth waters with a panorama of striking scenery – snow-capped peaks, hanging glaciers and impressive waterfalls. Our day includes an opportunity to photograph “Last Hope” fjord along with wildlife such as the endemic Chilean dolphin, as well as sea lions, cormorant and Chilean skua. Once we reach the foothills of the imposing Balmaceda Mount, disembark for a nature hike and picnic lunch in one of Chile’s largest and least explored parks – Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.  On an easy hike through dense and pristine rainforests, study the diverse plant community, including a dense carpet of mosses and lichens. Eventually we reach a glacier lake and Serrano Glacier. (B,L,D)

Day 10

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park encompasses almost 600,000 acres of arid Patagonian steppe, pre-Andean shrubbery, Andean desert and deciduous forests. Enjoy a magnificent view of sunrise over the “Cuernos del Paine” (the Paine Horns). These rugged peaks, formed out of granite and sedimentary rock, were named “Paine,” which means blue, by native Patagonian Indians presumable because of the peaks’ stark blue coloration when observed from a distance. Join our naturalist guide walking through the Nothofagus forest, where we scan for Magellanic woodpecker, Chilean flickers, Austral parakeets, Andean deer, foxes and unique flora. We take a ship along the 15-mile long lake, formed by the retreat of the glacier and surrounded by mountains including Paine Grande — at 10,006 feet the park’s highest point. Grey Lake is full of icebergs calved from the Grey Glacier, the final tongue of the 300 mile long Southern Patagonia Ice Field and one of the 48 main basins of this ice field. The crevasses and solid glacial ice ranges in color from white to deep indigo, providing a fascinating backdrop for your photography. After exploring, enjoy a Pisco sour or Scotch served with 20,000-year-old ice! This evening, an additional photo workshop is held at sunset. Spend two nights at the Hotel Rio Serrano. (B,L,D)

king penguins

Day 11

Torres del Paine

Spend a day exploring the eastern section of this massive UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  From our perch on the eastern corner of Sarmiento Lake, enjoy incredible views of the towering peaks of the park’s granite towers — Las Torres — for which the park is names.  Moving through the park, observe herds of guanaco, lesser rhea and even Andean condors. Hike past one of the Paine River’s most impressive waterfalls en route to Laguna Amarga. After a picnic lunch, explore the alkaline ponds and reed-fringed lagoons. Torres del Paine is also home is a surprising array for flora — nearly 500 species of plants — and our photo tour of Chile is held at the optimum time to shoot the flowers blooming. After dinner, enjoy another chance to photograph the mountains at sunset. (B,L,D)

Day 12

Punta Arenas / Santiago / Depart

Drive to Punta Arenas, where we board a group flight to Santiago. Depart on independent flights home. (B, Meals Aloft)

Day 13


Connect with your flights home. (Meals Aloft)