Chile: Off the Beaten Path
Sustainable Student Group Travel to Chile
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You’ll be met at the Santiago airport by your guide and transferred to your hotel to get settled in. Afterward, you’ll head out for a light exploration of some of the Chilean capital’s colonial structures and history, starting with the Plaza de Armas and the presidential palace, La Moneda. Wander among the vendors in the bohemian streets of Lastarria before sitting down for dinner and planning for your upcoming adventures!
You’ll start the day in the city center again at La Moneda. As you look on this majestic building fronted by one of the biggest flags in the world, your knowledgeable guide will share with you the tragic history of the golpe de estado. That’s how Chileans refer to the 1973 coup d’etat when President Salvador Allende was killed when members of his own country’s air force bombed La Moneda and installed dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who led Chile until 1990. Follow that with a visit to the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos, which commemorates the thousands who were killed, tortured, exiled and otherwise had their human rights violated during the Pinochet dictatorship. The museum staff are knowledgeable, friendly and eager to discuss the particulars of the museum and the country’s history, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
After lunch a visit to the eclectic Bellavista neighborhood will lead you to La Chascona, the former home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda was a staunch leftist and ally of President Allende, and died under mysterious circumstances just days after Pinochet seized power. Today his former home is a museum showcasing his unique sensibilities and quirky vision. Following that, a hike up nearby Cerro San Cristobal is in order, to take in a stunning view of the entire city, followed by dinner and a discussion of what you’ve learned today.
After breakfast you’ll head out to the coastal city of Valparaíso, the Jewel of the Pacific, just an hour and half away. On your way into town you’ll notice right away that this UNESCO World Heritage site is a unique, mad jumble of colorful houses scattered seemingly at random on rocky hills. With its alleys and winding narrow streets flanked by amazing mural art, it’s a delight to just get lost and explore here! Start off by checking out a funicular, also known as an ascensor, the elevators that have taken people up and down Valparaíso’s steep hills for a hundred years or more in some cases. Your guide will show you the Reloj Turri in the street below, behind which is the Ascensor Concepcion (aka Turri), inaugurated in 1883 and still running today. The hills of Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre are each dotted with artisanal shops and street vendors, great overlooks like the Paseo Yugoslavo and Paseo Atkinson, and local restaurants with Chilean cuisine. Search out the famous Piano Stairs on Cerro Concepcion, and get your picture taken with the alas de angel, or angel wings street art on Calle Almirante Montt on Cerro Alegre!
Then you’ll head over to the Parque Cultural, also known to locals at the ex-Carcel, or former prison. This is where Pinochet imprisoned his political enemies during his reign, but today it has been transformed into a public park complete with a huge green space, museum and theater. Best of all, the former prison building has been allocated to artists as studio space, and it’s open to visitors on certain days. The museum guides have plenty of special insights into the history of the space and its transformation from tragedy into hope.
Time to head up to nearby Concon and its gorgeous sand dunes just on the other side of the bay, where you can hike to the top, try your hand at sandboarding, and take in the stunning view of the sunset from atop the dunes before heading back to Santiago.
Today’s a travel day to Punta Arenas at the very southern end of Chile. After you land, your guide will direct you on a short day tour of this historic city situated on the Strait of Magellan, including a trip to Museo Nao Victoria which has a replica of one of explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s galleons. After relaxing and having lunch, it’s off to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Patagonia! You’ll marvel at the breathtaking landscape along the way, and once there you’ll get checked in to your hotel and rest up for your big day tomorrow.
After an early breakfast, you’ll head out to the Milodón Caves about 10 miles north of Puerto Natales. These stunning caverns were the last home for some giant megafauna, including the milodón and after a short hike they offer amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Be sure to take the extra 3 km hike to the smaller, lesser-known caves nearby as they are well worth the trip for the views alone. And don’t forget to check out the incredible rock formation known as the Devil’s Chair!
Next we’re heading to Torres del Paine National Park, named for the giant granite towers that were carved by glacier movement thousands of years ago. Your local guide will show you to the Sarmiento Lake which offers a gorgeous panorama of the towers. Along the way you may very see some of the local fauna, including the Andean condor, the guanaco – a close relative of the llama – large flightless birds called rheas, and the curious and bold South American gray foxes. You’ll then head over to Amarga Lagoon to enjoy a box lunch with a stunning view of the Torres, after which you’ll go for a short hike to Salto Grande, a powerful waterfall offering incredible views. Then you’re off to Pehóe Lake and Grey Lake, where a short 15-minute hike will be rewarded with a lovely – if chilly – beach. After you return to Puerto Natales, its time for dinner and sharing all the wonderful photos you took that day!
Today you’re heading from the edge of Antarctica to the driest desert on earth! Your flight from Punta Arenas will take you to Calama, where you’ll be greeted and taken via transfer van to the little desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. Since this is a big travel day you won’t have time to do a lot, but once you get situated at your hotel, your local guide will take you on a small tour of this dusty, charming town with its narrow, winding streets. As you wander you’ll be sure to see the historic town center and the Iglesia de San Pedro, a Spanish mission-style adobe church, and one of the first to ever be constructed on the South American continent.
Make sure you get to see something many tourists miss, the Pueblo de Artisanos, a funky building housing a number of local arts and crafts shops. Then it’s back to the town center for dinner and discussion about what’s next on the agenda for tomorrow!
Today you’ll head out into the nearby desert where your local guide will show you the breathtaking Valle de Martes with its Mars-like landscape. Along the moderate hike your guide will share local lore, the history of San Pedro de Atacama and how a town came to exist in such a forbidding region – hint: there’s water there! – and show you some of the local flora. And don’t forget the unforgettable views of the surrounding red rock formations that will make you feel as if you really are on Mars! Top it off with a fun downhill dash in the soft sand of a massive dune then head back to town for lunch.
Afterward, grab your bathing suit because it’s off to the Termas de Puritama hot springs! These warm pools are formed in a beautiful river carved into the craggy rocks, offering amazing views while you relax in the pools in the dappled sunlight. You’ll want to stay forever, but soon enough it’s back to town and a quick dinner before getting ready to go stargazing.
The Atacama desert is one of the driest regions on earth, and the lack of humidity makes it especially appealing to astronomers, as that guarantees clear views. Your stargazing guide will give you a 20-minute lecture to lay out the basics of astronomy and stargazing, then walk you through how to use one of several telescopes he or she will set up, pointing out a variety of constellations and other amazing vistas in the night sky.
It’s an early start today as you’re heading out around 4:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise at the incredible Tatio Geysers. You’ll be glad you got up so early when you witness the spectacle of the sun rising over the steaming geysers, the highest in the world at over 14,000 feet. In the early morning chill the steam sometimes reaches heights of nearly 100 feet! You can take a soak in the geothermal pools after breakfast, and then head back down the mountain where you’ll stop off at the village of Machuca. It’s a tiny town, a traditional pueblo where for generations the townsfolk have raised llamas, harvested yareta, a moss-like evergreen plant that can live to be thousands of years old, and sell crafts. You can get up close and personal with the llamas – if they’re not feeling ornery that day – and you’ll also get to see the flamingos that reside in the nearby wetlands while chatting with the locals who live in the 20 or so homes there.
After returning to town (and probably a nap after that early morning!) you’ll gather for a late lunch, and then it’s off to the Valle de Luna, another stunning desert area nearby. There’s a 30-minute hike uphill to get to the overlook but you’ll soon see why its worth it. That’s because from the top of the rocky outcrop you can take in 360-degree views of the surrounding desert rock formations, seeing the layered minerals in the cliff faces and so much more. Head to the far end of the formation to get the best seat in the house for the sunset, which bathes the valley below in an ever-shifting array of purple, gold and red. Back to town that evening for a celebratory dinner and catching up with your mates over all the wonderful experiences you’ve had in beautiful Chile!
Spend your free time exploring more of this beautiful place before beginning your departure home and onward journey. We hope you enjoy your time in Chile!
Long isolated between the Andes mountains and the Pacific, Chile today is rapidly becoming a top tourist destination. The narrow nation is recognized for its unique beauty, magnificent 4,000-mile coastline, access to breathtaking glaciers, live volcanoes, and some of the best stargazing in the world. Chile is an earthquake-prone land that has seen its share of political turbulence as well, and along the way you’ll learn firsthand about the challenges still facing the most economically successful South American country as it moves into the 21st century, while still paying homage to its unique history.
Come along for an unforgettable journey into a few of Chile’s lesser-known regions and discover a world unto itself in its wildly varied ecosystems, while communing with the locals and learning from them directly!
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