Islands of Chile
Robinson Crusoe Island (Juan Fernández), Chiloé and Easter Island
Off the coast of Chile, mostly not far but exotic, lie the islands of Chiloé, Robinson Crusoe Island in the Juan Fernández archipelago and famed for the legendary Alexander Selkirk and, of course, the legendary Easter Island.
Our new holiday takes in all three islands plus a brief time in the foothills of the Andes for a bit of birding. Every single one of the places we visit is extraordinary and unique. Alexander Selkirk island is, of course, famed for the time that he spent there and which was the basis for the famous story of Robinson Crusoe. But it has so much more, not least amazing scenery and terrific bird life. Chiloe is scenically glorious with fabulous birding and amazing architecture, notably its beautiful wooden churches. Easter Island — well, what can we say? Actually, quite a lot. The statues go without comment for they are what they are. In addition, we will be showing you the way of life on the island explored by archaeologists and also some amazing birding, including a boat trip to see petrels coming in to roost in the late afternoon.
Throughout the holiday we will return to Santiago to overnight before our next flight to the next of these extraordinary, exciting and each individually characteristic islands. A wealth of experiences all fitted in to just over two weeks. We've only got space for twelve people so do hurry. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity — it will be the only time we offer the tour so don't miss out. And, by the way, flights and accommodation are at a premium so don't count on last minute or take too long to decide. We can only hold flights and accommodation for a couple of months
- Islands of Chile: Robinson Crusoe Island, Chiloé and Easter Island
- Fully guided group tour
- Departure: 01 December 2019
- Nights: 17
- Fully inclusive cost: £10,945*
- Single room supplement: £750
- Deposit: £1,250
- Meal Basis: Full Board
- Activity level: Easy
- Tour leader: Andy Mitchell
- Maximum Group Size: 10
- Travel: Lan Chile / LATAM
- Departs: London Heathrow
- Included in cost: Flights and taxes, accommodation, all meals, excursions, entrances.
- Not included in cost: Travel insurance, drinks with most meals (some included), items of a personal nature.
- Islands of Chile 2019 detailed itinerary
Your tour leader
For 16 years Andy Mitchell was a career civil servant in his home town of Derby and then Leeds before realising that the outdoor life was calling him. He moved from Leeds to North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory in Orkney for a year's training and ended up staying for nearly five years, as well as falling in love with Orkney. A spell of various expeditions abroad and jobs in conservation followed which gave him a breadth of knowledge and experience. He then joined the RSPB working on research into Song Thrush declines before moving back to Orkney to manage the reserves on Egilsay and Rousay. After ten years with RSPB he left to set up his own business advising on wildlife tourism and doing environmental assessment work based at his home on South Ronaldsay. Birds are his main passion - not in the sense of having to see every species but as conservation indicators. His other interests are all things Cuban, beekeeping, music (he's learning to play the fiddle) and seeing the delight on people's faces when they see those special wildlife moments.
Our Lan Chile flight leaves London Heathrow at 2010 hours.
After meeting our naturalist guide at Santiago airport, we will have a full day exploring El Yeso Valley in the Andean foothills where will hopefully be rewarded with sightings of the endemic Crag Chilia plus our first Andean Condors, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and several other Andean specialties. Careful scanning of the grasslands and streams around the reservoir may produce the stunning Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. This is a lovely mountain spot where we will also have chances to see the cryptically coloured Grey-breasted Seedsnipe and passing flocks of Mountain Parakeet. During the afternoon we will be transferred to Hotel Galerias (or similar) in Santiago for dinner and overnight.
Our trip starts with a private transfer from our hotel in Santiago de Chile to Aerodromo Tobalaba. From here we will take a 2-hour flight to Robinson Crusoe, the only inhabited island of the whole archipelago. Once we see the island, emerging from the uces numerous and deep ocean-facing cliffs. The Juan Fernández archipelago emerged as a lava flow originating from a hotspot located on the Earth's crust and the islands are currently being slowly conveyed eastwards on the Nazca Plate.
The airstrip is located in the western end of the island near El Padre Bay; from here we will take a 90-minute boat ride towards Cumberland Bay. The small village of San Juan Bautista is the only settlement of the island and currently has a population of nearly 900 inhabitants.
After Selkirk's prolonged and solitary residence, the Spanish authorities took possession of the island by building a fort and later using it as a prison. Eventually, it became Chilean territory, being colonized in 1880 by a handful of nationals and foreigners.
We will have the rest of the day to enjoy the comfortable facilities of Refugio Nautico, our base for the following three nights. During our stay, we'll have a delightful sample of seafood including the famous Juan Fernández crab.
Today we will explore Juan Fernández National Park (and World Biosphere Reserve) and its hills covered with Fernandezian forests, looking for the two endemic land birds of the island: the gorgeous Juan Fernández Firecrown and the Juan Fernández Tit-tyrant. We'll also look for Austral Thrush, Short-eared Owl and the endemic race of the American Kestrel.
The Fernandezian forest has sub-tropical characteristics and is the only of its kind located within Chilean territory. It holds a large floristic diversity comprising 135 endemic species. However, this diverse forest ecosystem faces serious conservation threats. Nearly 20 species are represented by a population consisting of less than 25 individuals! and even some of them, as is the case of Robinsonia berteroi, are in critical extinction risk as currently only one plant still survives.
We will ascend towards the lookout of Alexander Selkirk from which we will enjoy breathtaking views of the rugged topography of the island, including conspicuous jagged peaks such as Cerro Tres Puntas. From here, Selkirk was constantly inspecting both coasts of the island, looking out for the appearance of any ship.
The subtropical marine ecosystem around the island is biologically very productive and favours excellent feeding conditions for a diverse array of resident pelagic seabirds; many of them are long-range visitors coming from sub-Antarctic islands off New Zealand and even from Antarctic latitudes.
This remote archipelago attracts the attention of the experienced sea birder as it is renowned as the nesting location of some of the world's rarest petrels and shearwaters. We will be looking for pelagic birds including four species of Pterodroma or gadfly petrels including the Juan Fernández, De Filippi's, Stejneger's and Kermadec. Looking for Pink-footed Shearwater, we'll visit coastal cliffs during the afternoon when these birds return from their long daily feeding trip to attend to their nestlings. Other seabirds will include Antipodean Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, White-bellied Storm-Petrel and Sooty Tern.
Our trip along the coastline will provide excellent opportunities to observe the endemic, and formerly almost extinct Juan Fernández Fur Seal. This eared seal, endemic to the islands, was literally at the edge of extinction. Since the late XVIII until the beginning of the XIX centuries, several million individuals of this seal were hunted for its fur, and eventually in 1824, was considered extinct. Fortunately, a small colony was discovered in 1965 and to this date, its population has steadily increased in numbers, now being regarded at a low conservation risk.
Today our adventure in Robinson Crusoe ends. We will head back to El Padre Bay by boat and from there we will fly back to Santiago. A transfer to our hotel in Santiago will be expecting us on our return to Aeródromo Tobalaba where we'll spend the night at Holiday Inn Santiago Aiport, Santiago.
This morning we will fly from Santiago to Castro airport located at Chiloé Island, a land of myths, legends and history, with countless and outstanding natural and cultural riches. As soon as we leave the airport we'll notice the interesting architecture comprising wooden houses and churches, with characteristic walls and roofs covered with shingles. We'll drive south across the Island to the magnificent Tepuhueico, a private reserve where we'll spend the whole following day in the lush Valdivian humid forest, looking for stunning wildlife, mammals like Pudu Deer, many forest-dwelling bird species and several frogs and lizards that live among moss and fern-covered tree trunks of these dense, damp woods. We'll have two nights at Tepuhueico Lodge.
Days 8 & 9
We will have the unique opportunity to spend two full days exploring the pristine Tepuhueico woodlands, which are part of the unique ecosystem known as Valdivian Temperate Rainforest. Tepuhueico Park has the reputation of being a highly reliable place to see the critically endangered Chilean endemic Darwin's Fox. A few hundred individuals of this fox survive in the ecotone between the dense temperate forests and the coast. We will have interesting walks in search of Darwin's Fox, Pudu Deer (the second smallest deer in the world) and the Kodkod or Guiña (a very rare woodland cat). While searching for this array of enigmatic and poorly known mammals, we find several endemic birds of the Patagonian woodlands such as Black-throated Huet-huet, Chucao, Ochre-flanked and Magellanic tapaculos, Magellanic Woodpecker, Chilean Hawk and Green-backed Firecrown.
This morning we'll visit the unique maritime temperate rainforest that grows right up to the shore in Cucao within Chiloé National Park, an area which opens to the vast Pacific in the western coast of the island and was visited by Charles Darwin who landed here in 1835. Later we will drive to our base in Castro, Hotel Quilquico, a delightful facility built in the traditional construction style of the archipelago where we'll have a two-night stay.
Today we will aim towards the wild west coast of the island to take a short boat trip to the interesting location of Puñihuil. Here we will circumnavigate one of the islets to see one of the few mixed breeding colonies of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. Marine Otter, Magellanic Cormorant, Kelp Goose and Flightless Steamer Duck are all usually found here, too. After lunch we'll drive east across the Island to reach the picturesque towns in the protected eastern coast. Here we will concentrate in studying the cultural features including the famous stilt houses set right on the rocky shore and the wooden churches of the surroundings. During the afternoon we will visit three churches representative of the XVIII colonial wooden construction whose architecture was inspired by shipbuilding, a skill most old-time islanders mastered.
Today, prior our flight back to Santiago; we will visit the mudflats of Caulin Bay, which holds an important part of the world population of Hudsonian Godwit, which winter here and in other extensive bays of Patagonia, together with Red Knot and a variety of other shorebirds. Later we will be transferred to the Castro airport. We return to the Holiday Inn at Santiago airport for an overnight stay.
This morning we will fly over the Pacific Ocean, covering more than 2,300 miles separating Santiago de Chile from Easter Island. Having settled in to Iorana, Hanga Roa, we will have an interesting exploration of the village of Hanga Roa and its immediate surroundings, visiting the ceremonial site - of Tahai. This will be our first encounter with the iconic moai, the famous and unique stone statues of Rapa Nui. We will also learn about other stone structures, including the boat-like 'house' foundations as well as the poultry housings, or hare moa, of which there are plenty across the island. At Ahu Tahai, we will pay homage to William Malloy, a famous scholar and anthropologist who lived and died in the island: the whole site of Tahai is part of his reconstruction efforts. By the end of the day and just before sunset, we will visit the Ahu Akivi, an impressive array of seven standing moai, facing the ocean. Many islanders believe that the seven moai represent the young scouts sent ahead of the main migration under king Hotu Matu'a. They are said to look towards their homeland in west-central Polynesia.
Today we will visit some of the most dramatic and distinctive archaeological sites of Rapa Nui. We will begin our day driving along the southern coast towards the impressive volcanic crater of Rano Raraku, located near the eastern tip of the island. This promontory, now declared World Heritage Site, was extensively used for nearly 500 years, as was the main quarry, to carve the moai statues out of volcanic compacted ash. We will explore the skirt of the mountain and admire from the path hundreds of unfinished statues; some are partly buried and standing while others are embedded in the ash of the volcano slopes. The largest moai ever built is here, measuring more than 70 feet long and weighing close to 270 tonnes! This ghostly scene of Rano Raraku seems as if all the workers suddenly had to abandon their duties at the workshop. Continuing along the path, and admiring the scenic coastline as well as the 'moai path', we will spend some time studying Tukuturi, a very unusual moai in a kneeling posture and entirely different from any standard statue.
Containing 15 huge erected moai, Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial site in the whole of Rapa Nui. The array includes a very large moai of more than 80 tonnes and even one statue has a top-knot of red scoria, which was brought from another distant quarry, located at the other side of the island. All the moai of this huge ahu were toppled during the island's civil wars and in the 20th century, the whole site was swept by the massive tsunami of 1960. There is a huge amount of stonework scattered around the site, including several topknots or pukao, moai and petroglyphs showing lots of motifs, including tuna fish, frigatebirds and the God-like face of Make-make.
Heading back to Hanga Roa, we shall visit Ahu Akahanga, along the coastal road. This place is a destroyed ahu containing several overturned moai with huge topknots scattered around; there also are some striking semi-pyramidal burial sites, built out of large piles of rock.
This morning our destination will be the stunning ceremonial site of Orongo, located at the south-eastern tip of the island. The impressive setting of the huge caldera of the extinct Rano Kau volcano and the surrounding village make this location one of the main highlights of the whole Rapa Nui tour. The microclimate inside the caldera, nearly a mile in diameter, accounts for the presence of various species of endemic plants, and the lake itself was an important source of freshwater in times of drought.
Orongo village is also the main entrance to Rapa Nui National Park where we will visit the characteristic oval-shaped stone houses that sheltered the contestants of the ancient competition rituals of the Bird Man, Tangata Manu. This striking ceremonial site was extensively restored in 1974 by the American archaeologist William Mulloy, and, unlike several other sites that are less exposed to wind and rain, the houses at Orongo were built with benmorite, a type of basalt found only in the area. The entrances to the various shelters are quite low, as is the case with all the housing of the island, in order to protect the inside against wind and cold. Along the cliffs and besides the main structures, we will admire an array of different petroglyphs, many depicting birdman motifs or even the face of the god Make-make.
Later we will explore the site of Vinapu, where we will compare ahu sites built over very different period of times during the history of Rapa Nui civilization. We will be certainly impressed by the quality and accuracy of the stonemasonry at the back of one of the ahu which appears to be very similar to other wall structures of the Inca in South America, but is the result of the local progress in construction of these massive stone structures.
During the afternoon we will take a boat trip to the motus, Motu Iti, Motu Nui and Motu Kau Kau, the three volcanic islets located off the southwestern tip of the island. Here we will concentrate in identifying the several Pterodroma -or gadfly- petrels which occur here: Herald Petrel, Kermadec Petrel, Phoenix Petrel and Henderson's Petrel. Other seabirds found here include Brown Noddy, Great Frigatebird, and Masked Booby.
This morning there will be the chance to visit the crafts market and other stores of the village. We also recommend you visit the comprehensive Sebastian Englert anthropological museum, which holds phenomenal displays and collections of the pre-history and history of Rapa Nui. Later we will be transferred to Mataveri airport for our flight back to Santiago de Chile where we will again stay at the Holiday Inn at Santiago Airport.
Our LATAM flight leaves Santiago at 1200 hours, arriving in London Heathrow at 1315 hours on Wednesday 18 December.
Please note that the itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or your tour leader.