An Eight-Week Odyssey
In today’s fast-paced world, perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves is time. Step off the hamster wheel with this in-depth journey through five of South America’s most awe-inspiring countries.
5 countries | 8 weeks
Time is typically against you when travelling in South America. Distances are so huge that a two-week holiday normally limits you to the highlights of just one or two countries. This eight-week extravaganza allows you to become properly immersed in the region, mixing must-see sites with more out-of-the-way attractions that are hard to fit in on a whistle-stop tour.
- Trekking to the base of the towers in Torres del Paine, arguably South America’s most spectacular national park.
- Playing with perspective on the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats and a photographer’s dream.
- Travelling first-class across the wild altiplano aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer, past grazing llamas, adobe villages and waving school children.
- Up-close encounters with sea lions, iguanas and blue-footed boobies in the gorgeous Galapagos.
- Walking in the footsteps of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in colonial Cartagena.
An eight-week journey of a lifetime through South America, loosely following the Andes from Patagonia in the south to Colombia in the north, taking in such highlights as the Atacama Desert, Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu and Galapagos.
Anyone looking to swing the work-life balance back in favour of life. The benefits of taking a sabbatical – on our health, both physical and mental, on our family connections, and on our work through refocusing our energy – have never been more widely accepted. This trip will appeal to anyone with a taste for adventure, wildlife, dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures.
When to go:
November to December – to coincide with the start of summer in Patagonia but avoiding the worst rains at Machu Picchu.
HOW TO START
Precisely when to leave on such a life-affirming trip is largely determined by the seasons in Patagonia. In Chile’s far south, November to March tend to offer the best conditions for trekking and other outdoor activities in Torres del Paine. Admittedly these same months are the wettest in Bolivia and Peru, but this needn’t put you off. Rain is actually a positive on the Salar de Uyuni, when it coats the salt flats like a mirror, causing you to question what’s up and what’s down.
Rain peaks at Machu Picchu between January and March, with the Inca Trail normally closed throughout February. But in November and December it seldom rains all day, making these the ideal months to combine Patagonia with Bolivia and Peru. The Galapagos are good to visit at this time as well, as is Colombia, whose rainy season runs from May to November.
Start this epic odyssey in Chile’s capital, Santiago, spectacularly set against the snow-covered peaks of the Andes. From Santiago fly south to Punta Arenas and cross the open steppe to Torres del Paine, the flagship national park of Chilean Patagonia. At its centre lies the Paine massif, an imposing island of shark-tooth granite that blushes pink in the rising sun. Luxury lodges in and around the park offer a raft of excursions to choose from, from hiking to the base of las torres, the granite towers that give the park its name, to riding, fishing and glacier cruises.
Next fly north to the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Desert, one of the most hauntingly beautiful places on earth. Take your time to fully appreciate the flamingo-dotted white salt pan, jagged copper-coloured mountains and spurting geyser fields. Then at night, lose yourself stargazing beneath the clearest skies on the planet.
Cross from Chile to Bolivia and the world’s largest salt flats, the mesmerising Salar de Uyuni, where giant pentagons of crystalline salt stretch endlessly to the horizon. To really appreciate the flats, set out for a few days in a deluxe airstream camper. Pulled by your guide in a comfortable 4×4, these ‘silver jellybeans’ grant you access to areas completely devoid of people and come with a chef to cook your meals and mix you cocktails.
For a change in perspective, head next to Madidi National Park in the Amazon Basin for a chance to spot caiman and macaws, to fish for piranha and canoe down swirling tributaries. Often overlooked by tourists on tighter timeframes, Madidi has the highest biodiversity of endemic plants on the planet and offers a rare opportunity to be immersed in an undisturbed corner of the Amazon.
Of course, no trip through South America would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu, Peru’s myth- and mist-shrouded Inca citadel. But on an eight-week trip like this, you’ve time to delve into some of Peru’s lesser-seen sights too.
First, discover why Lima is fast gaining a reputation as the gastronomic capital of the Americas. Then fly south to Arequipa to explore the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, where condors stretch their enormous wingspans. Next, journey to Cusco aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer along one of the highest railway lines in the world, enjoying breathtaking Andean scenery and a stop en route at Lake Titicaca, from which, says local legend, the Inca civilisation emerged 1,000 years ago. Finally, from Cusco the historic sites of the Sacred Valley mark the way to Machu Picchu.
Ecuador & The Galapagos
Between Machu Picchu and the Galapagos is traditionally when those on a tight schedule can start to feel fatigued. After the rigours of Peru, now is a great time to slow the pace down and spend a few days relaxing at Hacienda La Danesa, a traditional, family-owned farmhouse set in 1,200 acres of forests, fields and rivers at the foot of the Andes. With just six rooms, the atmosphere here is relaxed and familial, with days spent hiking through cloud forests, riding among buffalo, or learning to make chocolate ‘from bean to bar’.
Once fully recharged, it’s time to head for the Galapagos. Lying 1,000km off mainland Ecuador, the islands are renowned for their fearless wildlife, brought about by a lack of natural predators. But no amount of hype can prepare you for such close encounters with giant iguanas, frolicking sea lions and blue-footed boobies. To fully appreciate the islands, we recommend a seven-night cruise aboard a small luxury vessel.
Colombia is the rising star of Latin America and the perfect destination in which to end your epic journey. From the Galapagos, fly via Bogota to Santa Marta, gateway to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Stay at Casa Galavanta, an intimate wooden lodge sandwiched between coffee fields and dense rainforest, with spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea.
For a stylish finale, take a helicopter transfer to colonial Cartagena, flying over the ruins of the ancient ‘Lost City’, Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu. Founded in 1533, Cartagena is one of the most picturesque cities on the continent, with stately mansions, palm-lined plazas and centuries-old churches all hiding behind its thick defensive walls. Take coffee in shady squares, stroll the city walls at sunset and follow the thrum of salsa late into the night.
We’ve drawn on years of experience of criss-crossing South America to devise an itinerary that shows you not just the headline acts in each country – Torres del Paine, Cusco, the Galapagos – but also lesser-known gems that travellers rarely get to see, like Peru’s Colca Canyon and Bolivia’s incredible Madidi National Park.
The route we’ve suggested can comfortably be done in around eight weeks, but that’s merely a suggestion. The beauty of travelling with Bailey Robinson is that everything is designed around your individual needs. Want to linger in Lima to learn Peruvian cooking? Not a problem. Already trekked to Machu Picchu but have always dreamed of dancing samba in Rio? We can make that happen. Looking to perfect your Spanish? How about an extended stay in Cusco and lessons with a local? Or would you rather be immersed in an entirely different culture? Then why not volunteer with indigenous communities in Ecuador’s steamy Amazon. Only longer trips afford the time and space to make such dreams reality, so let us work with you to plan your perfect journey.
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Just back from
Chile stretches nearly 3,000 miles from north to south, from the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Desert to the sculpted peaks of windswept Patagonia. Our Product Manager Pete Mathers recounts his recent visit to this land of extremes.
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