Chile's remarkable geography means it spans a head-spinning array of latitudes and habitats; from the high Altiplano in the far north on the border with Bolivia, to the far, far south and windswept Patagonia shared with neighbouring Argentina. In between is the lush Valdivian temperate rainforest belt. This tour is designed to offer a scenic spectacular and floristic mix not to be experienced anywhere else on Earth.
From the Atacama Desert coast we drive inland and slowly gain height until we encounter the shrubby puna vegetation. The remote town of Putre is nestled among spectacular hills at 3500 metres. Overnight Putre.
We’ll today getting used to the altitude and driving the roads near Putre to try and find the showy Mutisia acuminata the flowers looking like exploding fireworks. Other flora includes big bushes of Lupinus oreophilus, Solanum pulchellum and the deep purple tubes of Dunalia spinosa. Closer to town we can find Mutisia hamata. Overnight Putre.
Amazing volcanic landscapes are with us from start to finish with the twin snow-capped peaks of 6348 metre Volcan Parinacota and 6282 metre Volcan Pomerape, as well as huge cushions of Azorella compacta and the little village of Parinacota with its’ quaint little church. There are many superb viewpoints and high Andean lakes with giant coots. Closer to Bolivia there are great volcano reflections on the lakes and lots more flamingos. Our maximum elevation today is 4500 metres, but we will only be this high for a few hours. Overnight Putre.
Another big landscape day, and this area is more remote so we need to be better acclimatised. Similar in elevation to yesterday we drive right up to the Bolivian border and then turn east via the smoking fumaroles of 5105 metre Volcan Guillatire, (the highest active volcano in the world) for a constant diet of great views. And even more amazing Azorella compacta cushions, as well as mats of Werneria aretoides with pink or white stars and big spiny domes of Cumulopuntia boliviana with scarlet flowers. Around the Salar de Surire salt pan are lots of vicunas (slender llama-like mammals), flamingos galore, maybe condors and the peculiar forests of Polylepis, the worlds’ highest altitude tree genus. The gnarled old trunks with flaking bark are fascinating. A long but rewarding day. Overnight Putre.
Today we are catapulted to a different world, flying south to the lush green Valdivian rain forest. Overnight Puerto Varas.
A visit to see the world’s oldest tree, a 3500-year old Fitzroya cupressoides. It is set among remarkable dense forests with the exquisite bark of Saxagothea conspicua wreathed in amazing lichens. Overnight Puerto Varas.
A complex journey via vehicle and ferry to reach an incredible national park, set up by the late Douglas Tompkins to preserve a huge slice of Patagonia forests.
Two full days will be spent exploring this stunning area of lakes, mountains and alerce forests. In this verdant fern-filled, moss wrapped world, the giant leaves of Gunnera tinctoria vie with rampant bamboo, trees ferns and the elegant crimson lanterns of Crinodendron hookerianum. Fuchsia magellanica dangles crimson flowers, Mitraria coccinea fiery orange tubes and the delicate white flowers of Luzuriaga polyphylla are suspended from epiphytic shrublets.
We will take an early morning flight south to Punta Arenas and then continue onto Puerto Natales. Suddenly a mountain lined fjord opens up and the landscape changes dramatically. We'll spend time exploring the back roads close to Torres del Paine and onto Cerro Castillo where will will spend three nights staying close the park on a pleasant estancia. 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.
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. On the last day we'll drive back to Puerto Natales for a night in a comfortable hotel there.
After some final grand views across the fjord we'll complete the 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.
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