Chile’s incredible landscapes form the backbone of a spectacular transit of the Andes from warm Mediterranean, south to tall forests of incredible monkey puzzle trees and a series of stunning mountain valleys with some lovely alpine areas. Florally we jump from alpine gems to showy altroemerias, outlandish cacti and delightful calceolarias. It has a special flora, great wine and importantly for those of us from the north it gives us a second summer. An extension takes us to the far south to the wilds of Patagonia and the magnificent Torres del Paine.
Day 1 Arrive in Santiago (26 November)
After arrival at Santiago airport we will drive north to our hotel and if there is time we may do some botanising en route to El Arpa ski centre. Overnight Los Andes.
Day 2 La Campana
Once common the magnificent Chilean Palm, the largest (in terms of trunk size) of all palms is now confined to a couple of reserves. Both deep orange Alstroemeria ligtu var. simsii and pink Alstroemeria pulchra grow here with Schizanthus tricolor. We’ll take a walk of about five kilometres (return) to visit the best grove seeing impressive cacti, maybe Puya bertroniana and the exotic spikes of scarlet Lobelia excelsa on the way. Taking a circuitous route back to the hotel there are superb populations of silver-leaved Puya caerulea (hopefully a few deep blue flowers), purple Calceolaria purpurea, plentiful bright red Rhodophiala phycelloides, Alstroemeria angustifolia, stands of the orchid Chloraea bletilloides and the scrambling climbers Eccremocarpus scaber and Mutisia rosea and M. latifolia. Rocky slopes have the big umbels of Alstroemeria zoellneri. Overnight Los Andes.
Day 3 Portillo
On to the lower slopes of Portillo abundant golden Tropaeolum polyphyllum grows with Viviana marifolia, superb stands of Schizanthus hookeri, soft pink Alstroemeria pallida and A. angusitfolia. If the season is early enough there will be both red Mutisia subulata and white M. acerosa. Stony slopes are coloured with a mix of Calceolaria corymbosa ssp mimuloides, bright red Tropaeolum tricolor and Olsynium junceum. Exploration of rocky areas around the ski-lodge will find the wonderful Viola atropurpurea and V. montagnei two of the Andean or rosular violets. Overnight Los Andes.
Day 5 Farellones
An excursion into the high Andes near the capital, where the ski slopes will have plentiful Viola phillipii, golden Anarthophyllum gayanum and the white trumpets of both Tropaeolum sessilfolium and Oenothera acaulis. If we are lucky and hike high enough we may find the unusual Barneoudia chilensis in flower and other areas will have plenty of Olsynium philippii too. Overnight Farellones.
Day 6 To Altos Vilches & Altos de Lircay
Continuing through the pleasant environs of Mediterranean climate Chile we move south. The landscape changes dramatically now. Gone are the high Andes replaced by snow-capped volcanoes and there are tall forests of southern beech. The plants have changed greatly too with more orchids such as Chloraea galeata, C. lamellata, C. lechleri and Gavilea glandulifera. If we arrive in time those that wish can take a six-kilometre hike into Altos de Lircay national park where a pleasant nature trail leads through old growth Nothofagus to outlooks with Calceolaria cana and Puya bertroniana. Overnight in a very pleasant tree-filled lodge at Vilches Alto.
Day 7 Siete TazasA series of stunning cascades are the showpiece of Siete Tazas, but florally we need to take a ten kilometre walk to another area of crashing rapids. The delicate pouches of Calceolaria cana grow in rocky places and near the river is a remarkable combination of Schizanthus hookeri, Puya bertroniana and the lovely rosettes of Viola congesta one of the Andean or rosular violets. There are also some unusual orchids with the green duo of Chloraea bipinnula and viridiflora. Overnight Vilches Alto.
Day 8 To Antuco via Salta de Laja
Chile is a long country and today is about repositioning for the next wonderful mountain area. On the way, we will stop for a remarkable population of very tall pure white orchids; Chloraea crispa, which not only survive but thrive in the pine plantations that line the road. Closer to our destination are the Salta de Laja a decent-sized waterfall and then as we near Antuco the impressive snow-capped black cone of Volcan Antuco rears up and dominates the landscape. Overnight Antuco.
Day 9 Laguna de Laja
The massive bulk of Volcan Antuco is with us throughout the day and its lave fields and surrounding areas are botanically-rich. Pretty pink Ourisia microphylla clings to organ pipe basalt formations with golden Calceolaria cavanallesii and around the large Laguna de Laja are colourful slopes with bicolored Lathyrus multiceps, golden Senna arnottiae and pink Oxalis squamata. The peculiar rosettes of broccoli-like Nastanthus squamigerus are among the gravels. We will venture onto the loose cinder slopes of the volcano where there are hundreds of rosettes of Viola farkanensis and its more impressive cousin V. cotyledon amidst stands of creamy Anemone multifida and wide-spreading mats of the hardy cactus Maihuenia poeppigii beset with yellow flowers. Amazing landscapes throughout the day. Overnight Antuco.
Day 10 To Villarica
Another beautiful snow-capped volcano rises up behind Villarica a few hours to the south and we should arrive at the national park by lunchtime. Here there are towering southern beech woodlands coloured by bright yellow, orange and scarlet of Berberis montana, B. trigyna and the iconic Embothrium coccineum. Depending on the snow at the ski centre we should also find a few alpines such as Nassauvia lagascae, Valeriana, Cistanthe colchaguensis and the dwarf shrub Ovidia andina. Overnight Villarica.
Day 11 Villarica National Park
The road heads east to the Argentine border, past stands of Chloraea virescens and roadside banks with Calceolaria valdiviensis and dainty C. tenella. Impressive bushes of Embothrium coccineum are common along the way as the towering Volcan Lanin started to appear. This huge volcano straddles the international border and its slopes are clothed in magnificent stands of Araucaria araucana – the monkey puzzle. Tall spikes of Gavilea odoratissima grow with our favourite Chilean orchid Chloraea magellanica a refined gem with cracked porcelain patterning. We’ll take a six kilometre walk into the forests to large stands of Araucaria to see the dark-centred pink trumpets of Rhodophiala andicola. Lunch will be among superb trees near the border where we’ll find more orchids. Overnight Villarica.
Day 12 Conguillio national park
Hopefully, we are not bored with impressive volcanic landscapes as today we drive to see Volcan Lliama (one of the most active volcanoes in Chile) and the wonderful surrounding forests of araucaria and southern beech. Some of these forests are quite spellbinding, draped in lichens and containing some towering, ancient tree, including one thousand-year-old matriarch. We will also see many orchids and flowering shrubs. From here we drive onto the town of Angol. Overnight Angol.
Day 13 Nahuelbuta national park
One of our favourite places in Chile, the coastal araucaria forests of Nahuelbuta are a botanical treasure-trove. On the approach, we will see Calceolaria integrifolia, Tropaeolum tricolor and the blazing scarlet trumpets of Rhodophiala chilense. Inside the park it is a wonderland of lichen draped trees beset with the scarlet flowers of parasitic Descumaria mutabilis, Embothrium coccineum and the golden orchid Chloraea nudilabia. Bone china Gavilea venosa is also frequent in the understory. There are two stunning viewpoints we’ll walk to. Overnight Angol.
Day 14 Angol and to Altos Vilches
The morning will be spent looking at orchids closer to Angol with graceful Chloraea longipetala, golden C. gavilu and green and white C. volkmannii. Then we drive north all the way back to Altos Vilches once again. Overnight Vilches Alto.
Day 15 Laguna de Maule
The finale of our grand tour of Chile are two fine high alpine areas, starting with Laguna de Maule. One the way up roadsides have Chloraea incisa and big sprawling plants of Mutisia latifolia. Climbing into the hills there are many lovely Alstroemeria ligtu ssp incarnata, with the purple pouches of Calceolaria arachnoidea, ivory Vicia magnifica and around the lake drifts of Oxalis adenophylla. There are also stunning populations of Viola cotyledon with many colour forms and some very large plants studding the seemingly inhospitable gravels. Wet seeps have scarlet Mimulus cupreus and Calceolaria filicaulis. In fact, one particular spot has five species of Calceolaria growing side-by-side. Overnight Curico.
Day 16 Paso Vergara
Another wonderful high mountain area with streams lined with lovely Calceolaria paralia and Mimulus naiandinus, past stands of Puya bertroniana laced with Mutisia subulata and onto alpine areas coloured with outrageous Schizanthus grahamii, Tropaeolum polyphyllum and Oxalis adenophylla. Rocky slopes have stunning mats of Azorella monantha and the tight rosettes of Viola skottsbergiana in an unusual white form. Overnight Santiago airport.
Day 17 Flights (11 December)
International flights or for those on the extension we will take the flight south to Punta Arenas.
Day 17 To Torres del Paine national park
We will take an early morning flight south to Punta Arenas (or Puerto Natales) and then continue onto Torres del Paine where will will spend four night staying inside the park. The roadsides on the way in have floriferous Escallonia rosea, Fuchsia magellanica and Embothrium coccineum. Roadside banks will have the lovely Oxalis ennaephylla and a suite of other heath flora including lovely Hypochaeris incana.
Days 18-20 Torres del Paine national park
We will make a full exploration of this amazing park, undertaking walks into areas of good habitat with plentiful Chloraea magellanica, Gavilea supralabellata and the stunning Calceolaria uniflora. Woods and grassy heaths are filled with the fine-lined trumpets of Olsynium biflora and billowing masses of Lathyrus nervosus. Seemingly barren slopes have the delightful miniature; Alstroemeria magellanica. All the time there are stunning views of one of the most iconic landscapes in South America. Wildlife is also abundant with many guanacos, flamingos, condors, geese and ibises filling the wilds. A truly special place.
Day 21 Return to Santiago
We'll drive back across the vastness of Patagonia to Punta Arenas and take a flight back to Santiago where we will overnight in a comfortable airport hotel.
Day 22 International flights