Epic Patagonia – Fjords, Peaks, and Forests (20 Days)

Cruise Line: Lindblad Expeditions
Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tour Segment  Cruise Segment
Air travel
Air travel
Santiago, Chile

Depart on an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile. We check in to the Mandarin Oriental (or similar) centrally located in Santiago, and have the morning to relax. Santiago is nearly surrounded by the Andes, which form an inspiring backdrop to our afternoon guided overview of this vibrant city. We explore the Plaza de Armas, the main square, and nearby Presidential Palace, enjoying wonderful views from the many hills that dot the city. In the early evening, we gather for an informal reception and a drink at the hotel. (Day 2: L)

Santiago, Chile
Air travel
Puerto Varas, Chile
Puerto Montt, Chile

Today we fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile's northern gateway to Patagonia. We'll visit the town of Puerto Varas, beautifully set on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, and if weather permits have views of dramatic, snow-covered Osorno, a volcano that Charles Darwin saw erupt in 1835. We'll have lunch, transfer to Puerto Montt, and embark National Geographic Explorer. (B,L,D)

Castro, Chile
Ancud, Chile
Castro, Chile

We spend the day exploring Chiloé's culture and natural history with a choice of excursions. One group will explore Chiloé's cultural history, seeing its attractive palafitos, colorful fishermen's houses precariously built on stilts along the water's edge. Some palafitos are now restaurants serving fine Chilean food, and we'll have lunch at one of them. The town of Castro has little shops and a large open-air market where the Chileans show their indigenous wares, such as alpaca sweaters and lapis jewelry. Visit some of the welcoming small communities that dot the countryside and learn about a unique way of life. One of the unique features of the island's history and culture is its wooden churches, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches and many of the houses are covered in protective shells of wooden shingles in artistic designs. Alternatively, choose to visit Puñihuil Natural Monument and go out in a local boat to see the wildlife that inhabits the islets just offshore. Enterprising fishermen in the area started offering boat excursions to these exceptional places some years ago. Both Humboldt and Magellanic penguins live here, along with the handsome red-legged cormorant, American and blackish oystercatchers, Peruvian pelicans, Peruvian boobies, and a number of other species. We may also be fortunate enough to see marine otters. We'll have a traditional Chiloé-style lunch called curanto: mussels, clams, potatoes, chicken, sausage, and a number of other ingredients, all cooked in a pit and covered with leaves. We then explore the historic and atmospheric town of Ancud, seeing the San Antonio Fortress, whose capture in 1826 marked the end of Spanish rule in the region; the central plaza, adorned with figures representing local mythology; the interesting market; and the foundation that helps preserve and restore the many churches of Chiloé, a number of which collectively are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We return to our ship in the late afternoon. (B,L,D)

Pumalín Park, Chile
Gulf of Corcovado (Cruising)

Pumalín's 750,000 acres in Chilean Patagonia are protected as one of the last areas where the unusual alerce forest remains. These huge trees are similar in dimension to California redwoods, with some specimens 2,000 years old. The Pumalín Project was established in 1995 by the late American conservationist Doug Tompkins, who wanted to preserve some of the remaining virgin forest in Chile. Have a choice of walks in the park with naturalists in the forest, visit a hidden waterfall, or, for the energetic, climb along a rushing stream and look for forest birds along the trail. In the afternoon, we head for the Golfo de Corcovado in search of marine wildlife, looking for Magellanic penguins, sooty shearwaters, dolphins, and with luck, whales. (B,L,D)

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
Southern Aiken Park, Chile
Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

Today offers a choice of two interesting excursions. You may decide to take a morning excursion to a nearby exceptionally beautiful privately owned park, Aiken del Sur. The park has well-maintained trails, set in evergreen forest with lovely waterfalls and lakes, including a 75-foot-high cascade. Bird possibilities include ringed kingfisher, woodpeckers, and a variety of forest birds. A Patagonian lamb barbecue (with vegetarian options) and entertainment by local musicians awaits at the end of the walk. Alternatively, take a full-day excursion to the Coyhaique National Reserve, driving up into a beautiful valley nestled in the Andes, with views of the snow-covered peaks. Entering the reserve, drive through evergreen forest full of giant rhubarb and ferns to the transition zone of deciduous Nothofagus forest. The starting point for our hike is Laguna Verde, "Green Lake". Coyhaique National Reserve is home to three Chilean woodpecker species, passerines, diurnal and nocturnal predatory birds, and other animals such as pumas and foxes. In places, the forest is native and pristine, and in others we have the chance to appreciate the colonization process that is following fires of recent years. After our hike, we'll have a picnic lunch and we'll visit the city of Coyhaique, seeing its central plaza and the artisans' stalls, with excellent handicrafts. We'll then return to Chacabuco and National Geographic Explorer. (B,L,D)

Tortel, Chile
Pio XI Glacier, Chile
White Narrows, Chile

This huge region of incredible scenery provides days of adventure for us. A vast area of snowcapped mountains, gigantic glaciers, thousands of islands covered with forests and other vegetation, lakes, soaring granite walls, and waterfalls, the archipelago is untouched by humans except for a few fishing villages which perch at "the end of the world". With a National Geographic photographer and a photo instructor by your side, you'll have boundless photo options. One possibility is exploring Tortel, where a system of boardwalks connects the houses and publics spaces of this charming town of about 500 inhabitants. One of the many highlights is the Pio XI Glacier, the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica, running some 60 miles from the Patagonia icefield to the fjord where it noisily calves off gigantic ice masses, at a rate of one every several minutes. It is 2 miles wide and rises nearly 200 feet above sea level. We explore by Zodiac. These days offer us multiple opportunities to hike, and to use our Zodiacs, kayaks, and undersea technology to explore the beautiful protected waters. En route to Puerto Natales, we transit the breathtaking 200-foot-wide White Narrows, a dogleg between unforgiving rock bluffs. (B,L,D)

DAY 10
White Narrows, Chile
DAY 11
Puerto Natales, Chile
Torres del Paine, Chile
Puerto Natales, Chile

From Puerto Natales, drive to monumental Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is one of the signature parks of Chile and for that matter the world, with the jagged horns and the granite towers of the central massif constantly drawing the eye to their varying aspects as the light and clouds change. The mountains are surrounded by Andean steppe, forest, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. You'll discover one of the most spectacular and wildlife-rich areas in the Americas, and will see herds of guanacos (cousins of llamas). You'll also look for rheas, gray foxes, Andean condors soaring overhead, and if you're very lucky, a puma. Chileans themselves dream of visiting this magnificent park. You'll have a choice of excursions: either take a challenging hike along a beautiful trail between two of the lakes, or else drive to some of the most scenic places in this great setting. (B,L,D)

DAY 12
Karukinka, Argentina

Karukinka Natural Park: Tierra del Fuego is one of Patagonia's crown jewels. We visit its newest and largest protected area: Karukinka Natural Park. Established in 2004 through a gift from Goldman Sachs, Karukinka is one of the largest donations ever made for conservation. We're thrilled to have special permission from the Wildlife Conservation Society to visit this private reserve, which spans 1,160 square miles and harbors endangered culpeo fox, Andean condors, and many other kinds of wildlife. We may explore Jackson Bay, backed by a skyline of rugged mountains, and look for wildlife including black-browed albatross that nest on one of the nearby small islands. We may walk a trail to a lovely waterfall, and look for elephant seals resting on not only the beach but also high in the grass meadows and even in the small river draining the valley inland. Look for the Andean condors, massive Magellanic woodpeckers, black-necked swans, Austral parakeets, albatrosses, grebes, petrels, fulmars, shearwaters, and many other birds that inhabit this otherworldly realm. (B,L,D)

DAY 13
Karukinka, Argentina
DAY 14
Chilean Fjords (Cruising), Chile

Sail the Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle. The ship, commanded by Captain FitzRoy, surveyed the region between 1826 and 1830 and returned in 1833 with Charles Darwin on board. On seeing the area, Darwin wrote: "It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow". We'll explore more stunning wilderness as we see the fjords and glaciers of the region by Zodiac, kayak, and on foot. A vast area of soaring, snow-capped mountains, gigantic glaciers, thousands of verdant islands, serene lakes, and waterfalls—the archipelago is scarcely touched by man. Take Zodiacs out to explore these protected waters and rugged shores, the blue and white of ice contrasting with greens of the forest highlighted by splashes of flowering plants. (B,L,D)

DAY 15
Cape Horn, Chile

Today we visit Cape Horn, near the southernmost tip of the South American continent, named in 1616 for the Dutch town of Hoorn. These waters are famously difficult to navigate, and over the centuries have been the graveyard of many ships—which before the opening of the Panama Canal had to round the cape to sail between the Pacific and Atlantic. During the Age of Sail, sailing ships often had to struggle with the winds and currents for days or even weeks. Of course, we'll use our modern equipment and decades of experience to explore safely. Weather permitting, we'll take our Zodiacs ashore and walk to the top of a hill for panoramic views and to see the memorial placed there in 1992, showing an albatross in silhouette. There's also a lighthouse and small museum, and moving plaques commemorate those who explored Cape Horn and those sailors who lost their lives in these waters. (B,L,D)

DAY 16
Isla de los Estados, Argentina

We have been given special permission to visit extraordinary Staten Island. National Geographic Explorer is one of the only expedition ships ever allowed here, and you will be among the few people ever to set foot here. It's a place of superlatives, barely touched in recent decades and visited primarily by a few scientists and those who man the tiny naval observatory. The island was named by Dutch explorers in 1615. Its mountainous forested landscapes and rugged fjords are beautiful, and we'll find a great deal of interest here. Our exact schedule will remain flexible to take the best advantage of conditions. We'll look for southern rockhopper and Magellanic penguins, many other water birds, and fur seals and sea lions. With luck we may find marine otters on our landings ashore; and we'll see the replica of the 1884 San Juan de Salvamento "lighthouse at the end of the world", which inspired Jules Verne's novel by the same name. Although Verne never came anywhere near Staten Island, the vivid depictions in his adventure story have inspired generations of readers. There will be chances to walk in the southern beech forests. And weather permitting, take a Zodiac cruise at remarkable Observatory Island, one of the largest and most diverse bird nesting areas in the entire region, with large numbers of southern sea lions and South American fur seals. These days are bound to stand out as a unique chance to explore a very remote place. To read Eric Guth's account of our pioneering 2015 visit to Staten Island, see http://www.expeditions.com/si-first. (B,L,D)

DAY 17
Isla de los Estados, Argentina
DAY 18
Isla de los Estados, Argentina
DAY 19
Ushuaia, Argentina
Air travel
Buenos Aires, Argentina
DAY 20
Air travel

Disembark in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Take a charter flight to Buenos Aires and connect to your overnight flight home. (Day 19: B,L)

Epic Patagonia – Fjords, Peaks, and Forests map

What's Included


  • All accommodations aboard ships or in hotels per itinerary or similar, all meals and nonalcoholic beverages aboard ship, meals on land as indicated, air transportation where indicated as included, shore excursions, sightseeing and entrance fees, special access permits, transfers to and from group flights, use of snorkeling equipment and wet suits, use of kayaks (where available), gratuities (except to ship's crew), taxes and service charges, services of a ship physician on most voyages, and services of our expedition staff.

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All accommodations aboard ship, meals as indicated, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages aboard ship, excursions, sightseeing and entrance fees, special access permits, transfers to and from group flights, use of kayaks and snorkeling equipment, services of Lindblad Expeditions’ Leader, National Geographic photographer, naturalist staff and expert guides, services of a ship physician, all gratuities, and all port charges and service taxes.

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