The magnificent Andes rise steeply from capital Santiago, soon reaching slopes rich in alpines and spectacular summer bulbs. This richness continue farther south with more fine passes and superb mountains. The colour is concentrated in these cooler uplands at this season and this tour takes us up to be among some dazzling and vibrant wild gardens. An active trip it is designed for those that love to combine flowers, mountains and walking.
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago (3 January)
Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport (SCL) we will transfer to our hotel in Guayacan.
Day 2 Lagunillas
The cool of dawn is greeted with birdsong in this peaceful valley and a short drive will see us up at the very modest ski centre of Lagunillas and walking towards stony slopes coloured with big sprawling mats of ochre to plum-purple Argylia adscendens, Perezia carthamoides, stands of Schizanthus hookeri and ever increasing numbers of rich pink Rhodophiala rhodolirion and variable Alstroemeria pallida. Ridgetop screes have reddish Pachylaenia atriplicifolia, Cistanthe picta and pretty Cruckshanksia hymenodon (pink form). Overnight Guayacan.
Day 3 El Yeso
In the morning (and if the road is open) we will either drive up to the El Yeso barrage to where there will be plenty of Alstroemeria umbellata and Tropaeolum polyphyllum. Then after lunch we'll drive south to our next hotel, nestled in the forested foothills of Volcan Descabezado. Overnight Vilches.
Day 4 Laguna de Maule
An excellent plant area inland from Vilches Alto, we’ll drive up to the pass to the stunning blue lake that is surrounded by dramatic volcanic landscapes. The many streams are lined with dazzling displays of coppery-orange Mimulus cupreus and Calceolaria filicaulis in a fiery duet. Open slopes have more subtle pink Oxalis adenophylla, and tufts of scarlet Loasa lateritia one of the loveliest alpines to be seen at this season. Elsewhere are cascades of Tropaeolum incisum, sulphurous Euphrasia andicola and much more the bristly snaking stems of Nassauvia. And everything with the irresistible backdrop of the lake. Parts of the surrounding landscape are equally dramatic with contorted and eroded ash towers, impressive lava flows of densely packed hexagonal columns. Overnight Vilches Alto.
Day 5 Altos de Lircay
The chance to stretch our legs and take a long hike into to the alpine zone of Altos de Lircay. the route is long but climbs gradually at first, passing through nothofagus forest filled with countless pink Alstroemeria presliana and a good number of scarlet Rhodophiala splendens. Bushes of Fuchsia magellanica arc gracefully over streams laden with pendant flowers and the climbing stems of Mutisia decurrens hang with big tangerine flowers. A steeper section takes us into the alpine zone where we immediately find lovely Alstroemeria exserens and the stunning red Mutisia subulata trailing across the heaths. Rhodophiala montana is common in various forms and with luck we will find the rare golden Alstroemeria pseudospathulata. However, one golden beauty if easier to see, the glowing spires of Chloraea alpina are visible from afar. On the ridgetop are big mats of Azorella monantha, Mutisa linearifolia and the amber pea Adesmia corymbosa. There are fabulous expansive views cross the mountains. A long but rewarding day. Overnight Vilches Alto.
Day 6 To Laguna de Laja
A relaxed morning following our exertions the previous day. The drive onto Antucalhue will take us dia a back road where a climb into the hills will find the orange form of Alstroemeria presliana and interesting mixed forest with Podocarpus salignus and Drimys winteri. Overnight Antucalhue.
Day 7 Laguna de Laja
More sensational flower displays carpet parts of Volcan Antuco's austere black ash slopes. Greener slopes are illuminated with stands of golden Alstroemeria aurea and where humus has accumulated are natural gardens of pink Mutisia oligodon in tumbling masses mixed with orange-yellow Qunchimalium chilense. The landscapes are wild and spectacular from the blue Laguna de Laja to the rugged, multicoloured volcanic slopes and glacier clad peaks. a hidden waterfall has Rhodophiala araucana and is the perfect place for a picnic. Nearby shrubberies have plentiful Alstroemeria presliana, A. aurea and Mutisia decurrens. In the shade of lava flows the cliffs are peppered with beautiful mats of Ourisia microphylla. Overnight Antucalhue.
Day 8 Tolhuaca
The morning drive will take us south to the more humid forests of the Chilean lake district. Tolhuaca was Chile's first national park and is a superb area of Araucaria and Nothofagus forests with a rich shrub and bamboo understorey with stately Blechnum magellanicum. We’ll spend the afternoon here hopefully finding the white-flowered orchid Chloraea longipetala, Mutisia araucana, scarlet necklaces of Tropaeolum speciosum and plentiful Mitraria coccinea. A spectacular waterfall is flanked by cliffs encrusted in Gunnera tinctoria. Overnight Curacautin.
Day 9 Las Nalcas
A truly spectacular volcanic landscape that is home to one of the holy grails of Andean alpines; Chaetanthera villosa. But before we reach here we will wander among some magnificent Araucaria araucana forests, including a venerable thousand-year-old specimen. With luck there will still be some Chloraea magellanica in flower too. The slopes of Volcan Lonquimay rise up beyond it is in these seemingly lifeless tracts that we will find pretty Loasa nana, Oxalis adenophylla and of course the incomparable Chaetanthera villosa. After lunch on a lava flow we'll drive through other impressive areas of monkey puzzles. Overnight Curacautin.
Day 10 Volcan Lliama or Tolhuaca
Morning either on the high slopes of this imposing volcano or taking another trail in Tolhuaca to look for Ourisia alpina. and then the long transfer to Curico. Overnight Curico.
Day 11 Paso Vergara
Impressive stands of Schizanthus grahami line the way as Alstroemeria exserens and Rhodophiala rhodolirion vie with one another to create amazing alpine gardens, the latter especially, occurring in great quantity amid superb landscapes. Big (non-flowering) domes of Viola skottsbergiana can be seen and as the route climbs there are tufts of purple-balled Calceolaria arachnoidea and in heavy scree the straw-yellow form of Pachylaenia atriplicifolia should still have a some flowers. Big shrubby mounds of scented verbena bushes line the way amidst tall stands of golden daisies. Overnight Curico.
Day 12 To Farellones (near Santiago)
A transfer day that takes us to the mountains above the capital. Alstroemeria revoluta will be flowering on the lower slopes as we climb to our hotel at 2500 metres, where we'll arrive in time to explore some of the ski slopes around Valle Nevado for Alstroemeria umbellata. Our hotel is beautifully positioned above the hills. Overnight Farellones.
Day 13 La Parva I
We will spend the day walking into middle slopes Andes where various ski roads take us fairly easily uphill to where there are lots of Rhodophiala rhodolirion (white form), Loasa sigmoidea, Viola philippii, Perezia carthamoides, trailing stems of golden Tropaeolum polyphyllum and spectacular displays of Cajophora coronata each massive plants sporting many inflated white flowers. Another of the classic and outrageous summer alpine plants. Overnight Farellones.
Day 14 La Parva high tops
Our final day sees us better acclimatised and able to spend time above 3000 metres, ultimately reaching nearly 3600 metres where we'll find some fascinating high altitude species such as Nototriche compacta, Loasa caespitosa, Viola atropurpurea, Nastanthus agglomeratus, Tropaeolum nubigena and the remarkable Nassuavia pinigera. Overnight Farellones.
Day 15 17 January To Santiago for flights
The airport is only an hour and half away for our return flights.