Outfitter: Friendly Planet Travel
Twelve days in Chile and Argentina including stays in deluxe accommodations, intra-South American flights, most meals, guides, excursions, ground transportation, and round-trip airfare from the U.S. for less than $3,000? No, that price didn't come from a 1993 tour catalog or a shady operator hiding the real price behind marketing. The provider is Friendly Planet, a small Pennsylvania-based tour company that designs and sells affordable group tours around the world with an emphasis on local culture and soft adventure.
"We are tour operators who, thanks to the internet, can put the benefit of our buying power into packages travelers can book directly," says company owner Peggy Goldman. "Our business model is to actively seek out those interesting destinations where we are able to offer a great deal to our passengers."
After visiting Patagonia last year, Goldman and her team put together Friendly Planet's first Patagonia itinerary, which will launch this December. The trip begins with several days sightseeing in Santiago, Chile, before flying down to Punta Arenas, near the southern tip of the continent. Participants then have two options: Go on a land tour that explores the Torres del Paine and Glaciers national parks, or take an adventure cruise through the Strait of Magellan to Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world. Both options promise views of stunning Patagonian landscape and wildlife-watching, but the cruise option costs $200 to $500 extra. Both groups then meet up in Buenos Aires for several days of touring, including a full-day excursion to the Argentine Pampas. An optional finale to the trip is an extension to Iguazu Falls, which offers a contrasting view of the continent's extremes in climate and geography.
"Patagonia is pristine and incredibly beautiful," says Goldman. "Whether you are trekking or exploring by boat the Perito Moreno Glacier or sailing around Cape Horn, the vistas—jagged Andes juxtaposed with azure waterways and crackling ice blocks—are lovely beyond compare. This destination really deserves to be visited for so many reasons."
Trip prices are mostly all-inclusive with the exception of some airfare taxes and fees, some meals, optional excursions, international entry and airport taxes, cruise upgrades, and connecting flights to Miami, where the international group flight departs. Exact pricing varies by departure date. Trips are scheduled to run during the Patagonian summer, from December through April.