On arrival at the Balmaceda airport, you will be met by your World Expeditions leader. We have a long drive ahead of us, down the Austal road to Puerto Guadal, so it is important you arrive no later than 12:00*. The drive will take us by Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysen region. The landscape slowly changes as we drive. If time allows, we will make a stop at the La Capilla de Marmol (the marble chapel) which is a magnificent marble cave, sculpted over eons by wind and water, set on the emerald green to turquoise blue waters of the General Carrera Lake. The lake is shared by Argentina and Chile, the fourth largest and largest in each respectively. We will spend the night at a charming lodge, which has a spectacular view of the lake and partake of our first Patagonian dinner together as a group.
*Note: Due to flight schedules it may be necessary for an additional night pre tour in Coyhaique and we can help you book these additional arrangements.
This morning we will set out by car from our lodge, which faces the Northern Patagonian Icecap, for a short drive before starting the day's walk. Our route takes us to a stunning viewpoint, where we will be rewarded with views of the icecap and its impressive glaciers - Leones, Nef and Soler. Patagonia's highest peak, Mount San Valent n (4058m), looms large on the horizon. We'll also be on the lookout for fossils; remnants of an age when these mountains were at the bottom of the ocean. The presence of sea fossils indicates that the Andes mountain chain rose very rapidly from the sea, and is a reminder of the enormity of the forces which created this magnificent landscape. After a fulfilling walk, we will return to the hospitality of our lodge to watch the sun set over the vast Patagonian wilderness.
Today a full day of adventure awaits us. We will take a jet boat up the Leones River (40 min) and enjoy incredible views along the way. After the boat ride we will walk for approximately 1 hour until we reach the glacier lake. Here, we will take a zodiac across the lake for a bird's eye view of the Leones Glacier and see the point where the deep blue wall of glacial ice meets the aquamarine waters of the lake. After a picnic lunch in stunning surrounds and in front of the glacier we have the option for a 2 hour walk to the ice. Once we are back at the boat we will return to the lodge.
Note: Jet boat excursion is subject to river conditions and participant numbers. In case the jet boat is not available it will be replaced by a car transfer.
Today we set out by car following the Baker river, and will drive along the last portion of the Austral road towards Villa O'Higgins. The 'Carretera Austral' as it is known, actually winds itself all the way from Puerto Montt to reach Villa O'Higgins, some 1200km south, though the section we'll travel on is far shorter. The area through which we travel is the least populated, least developed and least visited in Chile, and the vast wilderness experienced along the route is captivating. On arrival we will spend the night at a rustic lodge with shared bathroom facilities (or refuge depending on availability).
This morning we will join our boat at the Bahamondez port, and will cross Lago O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla. The milky light blue lake is the deepest in the Americas, and has a maximum depth of just over 830 metres near the O'Higgins Glacier. Our vessel will take us to the foot of the glacier, one of the largest in the Southern Ice Field with a width of 3km and vertical walls up to 80 metres high, before returning to the port in the afternoon. We will spend the night with a local family at their estancia. The homestay is basic, with no hot water, though the experience of spending time with the people of the area outweighs the temporary inconvenience of a cool shower. Candelario Mancilla itself is a tiny speck in the vast wilderness.
After breakfast we will start our day's trek, which is around 15 km in total, taking us from Chile into Argentina. We will pass through the Chilean border control on foot. The first 5 km or so is lightly sloping. Afterwards the road is even until the hamlet of Laguna Redonda. Our main luggage will be transported by vehicle to Laguna Redonda. From there, we continue the trek accompanied by pack animals to carry our gear (1 horse for every 3 people, max. 60 kg per animal). This section of the walk is around 8 km, and is in on trails covered with mud and tree roots towards the Laguna del Desierto. On arrival at the lagoon, we will pass through customs and board our boat to cross Laguna del Desierto. The journey across the lake takes around 40 minutes and at the southern end, we'll be met by our Argentinean vehicle which will take us to El Chalten, a village in the heart of Los Glaciares National Park. Overnight Hotel/Lodge.
We will make our base here and spend the next few days hiking in the Los Glaciares National Park. For two days, we journey into the park on impressive day hikes in the company of an experienced hiking guide. The options available to us include a trip to Laguna Torre and the base of Cerro Torre, or Laguna de los Tres and Fitzroy Base Camp. The valleys and mountains are all very individual in their beauty and we aim to contrast these views during our visit, as well as appreciating the birdlife and flora. Each day walk varies in length, however you should be prepared to walk for 6-8 hours per day and more, if the group decides to hike to Laguna de los Tres. Los Glaciares was declared a UNESCO World Heritage area in 1982, and after trekking in the area you will find it easy to see why.
This morning we will journey across the pampas to El Calafate and onwards to Perito Moreno glacier. This impressive glacier advances across Lago Argentino. We spend several hours wandering the many paths, that offer different vantage points of this calving glacier. The glacier is 4 km wide and 70 metres high and descends to the surface of the lake, almost cutting the lake in two. Occasionally massive pieces break off and fall into the lake becoming icebergs and creating huge waves in the process. The groans and creaks of the active glacier precede dramatic falls of the ice face. We'll return to El Calafate for the night. This is the largest town we'll have been in for some time and there are many restaurants, cafes and several fabulous chocolate shops to enjoy.
We drive for approximately 7-8 hours across the steppes following the face of the Andes. The scenery is breathtaking, with great rolling hills dotted with stunted beech trees. We have lunch in a local restaurant at the border and transfer to Torres del Paine National Park.
NOTE: Today we will leave our main luggage with the driver to be transferred to Torres and will be reunited with it on the evening of day 14. We will carry our own "essentials" on days 12,13 and 14 (these will be left at the refugio on day 11 as we enjoy a day trip to Grey Glacier). All that is required is warm clothes for sleeping and clothes for the three day trek, which will be carried in your daypack.
Today we commence the first leg of the famous "W" hike in Paine. Our trail offers stunning views of Lago Grey, the Towers of Paine and the Grey Glacier. It is immediately clear the scale of the ice and rock in this dramatic landscape. Towering above us are the Cuernos del Paine, or "Horns" of Paine, and Paine Grande - the highest peak in the massif. This morning is a 3-4 hour hike to view the awesome Grey Glacier and the Continental Icecap beyond. We return on the same trail to our Refugio, past mountain lakes edged with wildflowers and stunning views down to the larger lakes below. As a day hike it is possible to walk as far as you wish and turn around, although the trail today has fairly gentle undulations with few steep sections.
Walk approx 6-8 hours. Overnight Refugio/camping.
The hike can be relatively easy or more difficult depending on group preference. The easy option is to walk the direct route to Refugio Los Cuernos, which will take 4-5 hours. However we recommend taking a detour up French Valley, depending upon local weather conditions, to experience fantastic views of glaciers, waterfalls and be surrounded by the granite peaks of Paine. The valley is exciting because you hear the thundering of the river, and the creaks and groans of the French Glacier. The views down to the lakes and forests below are also outstanding. This side trip can be 4-5 hours, which means this day could be around 9-10 hours in total. Refugio Los Cuernos is set above the lake and has great views of the Paine Massif.
Our hike today will take 5-6 hours and follows the scenic Lake Nordenskj ld. We trek through awe-inspiring scenery today, passing by emerald glaciated lakes with the Torres del Paine Massif in the background. A steep ascent takes us to the riverside Refugio for the night.
Early this morning, we ascend the Rio Ascensio to the base of the iconic towers of Paine. When seeing the great granite pinnacles of Paine, it is worth remembering that the Andes is the youngest chain of mountains in the world. One can imagine the great pressures and movements of the earth that created these spectacular peaks. The trek will take around 8 hours, with some steep sections. We will return to Las Torres, effectively completing the "W" trek.
Transfer to Punta Arenas airport or to a Punta Arenas hotel if you are extending your stay. It is important not to book your outgoing flight before 2pm as the drive from Torres Del Paine takes several hours.