President’s Pick: Chile’s Patagonia & Mapuche Culture

“Everywhere I look when I see itineraries for Chile, I keep seeing the same four or five locations over and over. For quite some time, I felt that something more existed, an experience or interaction that not only showed me something new about Chile, it also met a personal requirement of mine regarding sustainability. Enter the Mapuche communities, one of the oldest indigenous cultures in a country. There is tremendous history in Chile dating back to the Incas and beyond that reaches beyond Chile’s tourist locations that everyone already visits. I am delighted to be able to take our guests off the track to see the real Chile.”

Country Information

Chile & Bolivia

Argentina & Uruguay

President's Pick: Chile's Patagonia & Mapuche Culture President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Chile & Bolivia


Argentina & Uruguay

(Interest Type(s))

Sustainable Travel


Adventure Travel

(Tour Length)

14 Days

Tour Highlights

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  • PP FINAL web smEnjoy a three-night cruise aboard the M/V Stella Australis to discover one of the remotest corners of planet Earth, including the remote archipelago that comprises Cape Horn National Park
  • Anchor off Magdalena Island, halfway between Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean mainland, to see the immense colony of Magellanic penguins that now inhabit the island
  • For a special experience, go trekking, ice climbing and camping on Exploradores Glacier, and explore the glacial moraine, a valley full of large rocks and loose stones that have been left from the advancement and regression of this giant mass of ice
  • Enjoy the magical world of Huilo Huilo set in the Patagonian Forest, and choose from some 40 activities such as trekking, horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, sailing and fishing
  • In Pucón, explore the traditional Mapuche community’s way of living, visit a family in a typical Mapuche dwelling and learn about their skills at metal work, especially silver jewelry, wood carvings and the ancient tradition of weaving textiles and carpets

Day 1: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Welcome to Argentina! Upon arrival into the Ezeiza International Airport, please proceed through customs and immigration. Once you have cleared customs and immigration, collect your bags and exit the airport. As you exit, a Big Five representative will be waiting to welcome you and privately transfer you to your hotel. Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires (B)

Day 2: Buenos Aires / Ushuaia / Murray Channel, Chile
This morning you are transferred with your private driver and English-speaking guide to the airport to board your flight to Ushuaia. When you arrive, you are transferred for check in at the Australis Travel Center in time to board your cruise ship. Board the M/V Stella Australis late this afternoon. After you enjoy a welcoming cocktail reception hosted by the captain and his crew, the ship departs for one of the remotest corners of planet Earth.

During the night you traverse the Beagle Channel and cross from Argentina into Chilean territorial waters. The lights of Ushuaia disappear as your ship turns into the narrow Murray Channel between Navarino and Hoste islands. Aboard Stella Australis Cruise (B,D)

Day 3: Cape Horn / Wulaia Bay
Around the break of dawn, Stella Australis crosses Nassau Bay and enters the remote archipelago that comprises Cape Horn National Park. Weather and sea conditions permitting, you'll go ashore on the windswept island that harbors legendary Cape Horn. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch maritime expedition -- and named after the town of Hoorn in West Friesland -- Cape Horn is a sheer 425-meter/1,394-foot high rocky promontory overlooking the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. For many years, it was the only navigation route between the Pacific and Atlantic, and was often referred to as the "End of the Earth." The park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. The Chilean navy maintains a permanent lighthouse on the island, staffed by a light keeper and his family. There is also the tiny Stella Maris Chapel and modern Cape Horn Monument (currently awaiting repair after being damaged by fierce winds).

Sailing back across Nassau Bay, you anchor at fabled Wulaia Bay, one of the few places in the archipelago where the human history is just as compelling as the natural environment. Originally, this was the site of one of the region’s largest Yámana aboriginal settlements. The bay was described by Charles Darwin and sketched by Captain FitzRoy in the 1830s during their voyages on HMS Beagle. This area is also renowned for its mesmerizing beauty and dramatic geography. After a visit to the Australis-sponsored museum in the old radio station -- which is especially strong on the Yámana people and European missionaries in the area -- passengers have a choice of three hikes (of increasing degrees of difficulty) that ascend the heavily wooded mountain behind the bay. On all of these you stroll through an enchanted Magellanic forest of lengas, coigües, canelos and ferns to reach panoramic viewpoints overlooking the bay. Aboard Stella Australis Cruise (B, L,D)

Day 4: De Agostini Sound & Aguila Glacier
After nightfall, you reenter the Beagle Channel and sail westward along the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego into a watery wonderland protected within the confines of Alberto de Agostini National Park. Rounding the Brecknock Peninsula as the western extreme of Tierra del Fuego, Stella Australis is briefly exposed to the open Pacific. Then, navigate a zigzag route through the Cockburn Channel, Magdalena Channel and Keats Fjord to reach scenic De Agostini Sound. Named after an Italian Salesian priest who worked among the region's indigenous people during the first half of the 20th century, De Agostini Sound is flanked by numerous glaciers and sheer saw-toothed peaks reminiscent of Torres del Paine.

This morning's shore excursion is to Águila ("Eagle") Glacier, which hovers above a placid glacial lagoon surrounded by primeval forest. After a Zodiac landing on the beach, you hike around the edge of the lagoon to a spot near the base of the frozen facade. Condors can sometimes be seen winging high above, but there is always abundant bird life around the lagoon. This landing provides the perfect opportunity to experience the beauty of Patagonia’s sub-Antarctic rainforest and to see how the power of nature has molded the spectacular landscape. Aboard Stella Australis Cruise (B,L,D)

Day 5: Magdalena Island / Punta Arenas / Puerto Montt / Puerto Tranquilo
After an overnight cruise through Magdalena Channel and back into the Strait of Magellan, your ship anchors off Magdalena Island, which lies about halfway between Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean mainland. Crowned by a distinctive lighthouse, the island used to be an essential source of supplies for navigators and explorers and is inhabited by an immense colony of Magellanic penguins. At the break of dawn, weather permitting, go ashore and hike a path that leads through thousands of penguins to a small museum lodged inside the vintage 1902 lighthouse. Many other bird species are also found on the island. In September and April, when the penguins dwell elsewhere, this excursion is replaced by a ride aboard Zodiacs to Marta Island to observe South American sea lions. After a short cruise south along the strait, disembarkation at Punta Arenas is scheduled for around 11:30 AM. *Camera extension poles are prohibited on Magdalena Island.

NOTE: All of the excursions described can normally be carried out. Transportes Marítimos Terra Australis S.A., Transportes Marítimos Via Australis S.A., and Transportes Marítimos Geo Australis S.A reserve the right to reschedule, shorten, or alter all or part of the itineraries and/or excursions without prior notice, in order to safeguard the wellbeing and safety of passengers, preserve the environment, or in the event of any extraordinary circumstances, acts of God or force majeure. For the same reasons, the hours of departure or arrival of the vessels are subject to change. There is no guarantee of wildlife sighting because the precise location of these animals often changes and cannot be confirmed.

After you disembark, you will be transferred to the airport to board your flight to Puerto Montt airport. There you take your flight connection to Balmaceda/Coyhaique. Upon arrival, a private English-speaking driver/guide will take you on a four-hour drive to Puerto Tranquilo. El Puesto Hostal (B)

Day 6: Ice Trekking & Camping on Exploradores Glacier
The glacier is located 52 km/32 mi. west of Puerto Rio Tranquilo by the Valley Exploradores. This road will lead you to the Exploradores Bay, through sections that border the Tranquilo and Bayo Lakes, and the northern boundaries of the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields. After approximately 51 km/31.6 mi., you will come to the Deshielo River, which descends from the Exploradores Glacier. A short distance later, you arrive at the El Puesto Expediciones Refuge, the starting point of your ice adventure.

After a short safety talk, your guides will help you get settled with the equipment you’ll need to walk on the ice. Your first obstacle is the glacial moraine, a valley full of large rocks and loose stones that have been left from the advancement and regression of this giant mass of ice. After conquering the moraine, you will begin to walk on clean ice, a sign that it is time to put on your crampons! If you have never hiked with crampons before it can be a little awkward at first, but your guides will teach you the techniques and you will soon be on your way. As you walk, you will encounter an irregular surface, full of mounds, cracks, small streams and enormous sinks, which are deep holes that can reach all the way to the base of the glacier. On the ice, everything becomes magical: the landscape, the colors, the sculpted glacial forms, even the sound of the crampons breaking the ice. After a long day you will camp and sleep on Exploradores glacier. Ice Camp (B, Lunch box, D)

Day 7: Ice Climbing on Exploradores Glacier / Puerto Tranquilo
In the morning, after breakfast on the glacier, and if you want even more adventure, you have the option to try out ice climbing, one of the most exciting experiences that Patagonia can deliver. You will then trek back to the El Puesto Expediciones Refuge and drive back to Puerto Tranquilo in the early afternoon. El Puesto Hostal (B)

Day 8: Puerto Tranquilo / Coyhaique / Puerto Montt / Huilo Huilo
Your private driver will take you to Coyhaique Airport for your flight to Puerto Montt. Upon arrival, you will be privately driven to Huilo Huilo. Your lodge in the Patagonian Forest nestles on the north side of the Puerto Fuy River. It is near the "Salto de la Leona" waterfall. Enjoy the magical world of Huilo Huilo. Your lodge has spacious rooms featuring a warm decor with noble materials, and are all equipped with a private bathroom with free toiletries, seating area and minibar. All rooms also have a private bathtub on their own terrace facing the River Fuy.  Nawelpi Lodge (B, D)

Days 9/10: Huilo Huilo
Over the next two days, you select from a wide range of activities, and more than 40 different excursions. You choose your level of activity, including: trekking, horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, sailing, fishing and more.

This area is also known for its living heritage as seen in a collection of indigenous groups that are known overall as the Mapuche. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity of groups who share a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Because they are spread out and separated into family clans, the Mapuche were able to resist the Spanish invaders for 300 years, and were never successfully conquered. The Mapuche community today is working to maintain a proud heritage through a number of initiatives, including workshops that benefit local students such as art, painting, dance, wood carving, music, and baking and chocolate-making. You interact with members of this community and learn about their rich traditions, customs and mythology. Nawelpi Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 11: Huilo Huilo / Pucón
Today, you travel to Pucón situated next to a lake and volcano. It offers a variety of sports and adventure activities. Pucón has a small Mapuche Museum and many places where you can still explore the traditional Mapuche way of living, eating and socializing. This ancient civilization has survived a difficult history, continually facing opposition, but they have remained free and independent. They are well known for their beautiful metal work, especially silver jewelry such as head dresses and necklaces as well as unique wooden carvings. They also have an ancient tradition of weaving textiles and carpets.

Your hotel is set in a beautiful spot along the shores of the Liucura River in a native park. The hotel is both a hacienda and a hotel. The hacienda operates a farm and has as its principal aim to provide fresh, healthy and delicious food to guests and to provide an interesting insight into the operations of a modern farm and cheese dairy. The hotel has been designed to offer spacious, luxurious, cozy and comfortable suites. Take in the mystic ambiance of these ancient Mapuche territories. The guides are passionate about their work and about sharing their knowledge and experience. You meet around the cozy fireplace or at the fruit bar with the excursion manager to arrange your next day’s activities or excursions. Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira (B,L,D)

Days 12/13: Pucón
During your time here, you can explore the stunning waterfalls with views across Lake Villarica. At Quelhue, see a typical Mapuche dwelling and learn about the traditional customs in local communities. Adventures include exploring some of the many untouched natural parks by horse, climbing with our experienced guide on top of the volcano, river rafting or kayaking on the Trancura River. You can also see the workings of the farm, how they make cheese, try your hand at creating art, or even practice yoga with one of the hacienda’s owners. In the winter, you ski on the volcano, go snowboarding, snowshoeing, or venture out on a winter horseback ride. Be as active or as relaxed as you choose. One night, you experience Mapuche night with traditional Mapuche food and drink and a Lonko, a Mapuche Tribal Chief, who will tell you stories about his village and his ancestors. There will also be the chance for you to learn about Mapuche cooking and to prepare your own dishes, if you like. Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira (B,L,D)

Day 14 Pucón / Santiago / Depart
Transfer to Temuco Airport for your flight to Santiago to connect with your flight home. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$850 per person per day

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