Patagonia's natural wonders take center stage on this week-long Chilean adventure. Arrive in the cosmopolitan capital of Santiago, then fly to the country's far south to embark on a series of unforgettable outdoor excursions. Meet the penguin colonies of Isla Magdalena, trek through the spectacular landscapes of Torres del Paine, and travel by boat through the Ultima Esperanza Sound to reach the remote Bernardo O'Higgins National Park.

Highlights

  • Visit Chile's largest penguin colony on Isla Magdalena
  • Discover the mountain lakes & granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park
  • Embark on a full-day trek to the base of Torres del Paine's iconic towers
  • Take a boat trip through the Ultima Esperanza Sound 
  • Explore the remote & vast Bernardo O'Higgins National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Santiago! Santiago
Day 2 Fly to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 3 Visit Magdalena Island, Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 4 Torres del Paine Full-Day Private Tour Torres del Paine
Day 5 Full-Day Trek to the Base of Torres del Paine Puerto Natales
Day 6 Ultima Esperanza Sound Boat Tour & Bernardo O'Higgins National Park Puerto Natales
Day 7 Transfer to Punta Arenas, Fly to Santiago & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Santiago!

Take a cable car up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal
Take a cable car up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal

Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your leisure. 

Suggested activities include:

  • Hike to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for the most magnificent views in Santiago. When visiting any new city it's a good idea to get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 2,788 feet (850 m) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. If you aren't the hiking type not to worry—you can catch a scenic gondola to the top.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Brightly painted old houses adorned with graffiti art sit alongside modern shopping complexes featuring an eclectic array of eateries and bars. It's a great place to come for dinner, a glass or two of Chilean red, and people watching from a patio table.

  • Visit the Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. There's a lot of history within the four corners of this expansive stone plaza, as it was founded back in 1541. Also here is the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.

  • Snap pics in front of the Palacio de la Moneda. Chile's opulent Presidential Palace (known simply as "La Moneda") is just a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas, and like the plaza, it's filled with history. It was here in 1973 that Chile's armed forces, backed by the U.S. government, overthrew President Salvador Allende, kicking off a brutal right-wing military dictatorship that would last for 17 years. Today the country is under democratic rule, and visitors are welcome to visit the palace. 

For dinner, be sure to get out of the hotel and enjoy a culinary adventure in the city. In recent years Santiago has emerged as a global foodie destination. Chilean chefs are reinventing traditional dishes like empanadas, cazuelas (stews), and seafood with ingredients harvested from the northern deserts and southern Patagonian regions. You can find great restaurants and wine bars not only in the Bellavista neighborhood but also in the revitalized historic barrios of Yungay and Italia.

Day 2: Fly to Punta Arenas

The charming coastal town of Punta Arenas
The charming coastal town of Punta Arenas

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, you'll transfer by private car to the hotel.

You're now in the major transport hub in one of the most beautiful regions of Chile. Founded in 1848 on the eastern shore of the Brunswick Peninsula, in its heyday, Punta Arenas was home to the creme de la creme of Patagonian society. Today it's a tourist destination, and from here you can easily access some of the most impressive natural attractions in Patagonia, like Torres del Paine National Park and Magdalena Island. There are also many sites in and around town that deserve your attention.

Suggested activities include:

  • Stroll the Plaza Muñoz Guerrero. This is a good starting point for a walk around the city. Not only is this leafy central plaza a gem (the pathways are lined with French street lamps and a statue of Magellan sits in the center), the surrounding architecture is impressive as well. All around the plaza are a number of majestic neoclassical mansions once owned by the monied sheep-ranching families of the 19th century.

  • Tour the Palacio Sara Braun, which is one such neoclassical mansion fronting the plaza. If you want to get an idea of just how much wealth the sheep trade generated in the 19th century, take a tour of this former home of the family Braun. Inside is a testament to luxury in the form of opulent dining halls and billiard rooms. 

  • Take a seaside walk. In recent years Punta Arenas has revitalized its waterfront area, so come and enjoy the boardwalks and outdoor spaces complete with artistic sculptures. 

  • Visit the Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head four miles (7 km) west of Punta Arenas to this 33,000-acre forested reserve (known locally as Parque Japonés). There's a self-guided nature trail lined with lenga and coigue trees, and it makes for a great, brisk hike. 

  • Watch the sun go down at Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. This viewpoint overlooks the city all the way out to the Strait of Magellan. It's a great place to come and watch the sun go down over Patagonia.

Be sure to head out in the evening and enjoy a local dinner. Seafood is the order of the day here, so sample some local specialties, like chupe de centolla (souffle of king crab), as well as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.

Day 3: Visit Magdalena Island, Transfer to Puerto Natales

Visit a penguin colony on Magdalena Island
Visit a penguin colony on Magdalena Island

This half-day tour begins bright and early in the morning. Transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan. Then, board a vessel that will take you 18 miles northeast to Magdalena Island. On this island is Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, a protected area home to Chile's largest colony of penguins.

First, though, you will travel to Marta Island, located in the middle of the strait. It's home to a large colony of Patagonian sea lions. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. Scout the many seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.

Upon arrival at Magdalena Island, disembark and spend an hour onshore. Follow a 2,624-foot (800 m) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 inhabitants. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan and then made famous by Charles Darwin.

Afterward, it's time to return to the vessel and make the journey back, reaching Punta Arenas by midday.

In the afternoon, travel by bus to Puerto Natales. This trip will take about 3 hours, and along the way, you can relish your first glimpses of the Patagonian Pampa and keep an eye out for local wildlife. Upon arrival to Puerto Natales, settle into your accommodation and then visit your tour representative for a trip briefing. 

The small port city of Puerto Natales is the main base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. It's far less touristic than many other Patagonian hubs, and thus, retains its small-town tranquility. It offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north, spot the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro—the view is phenomenal at sunset. After the stroll, check out one of the numerous restaurant options in town for dinner.

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Day 4: Torres del Paine Full-Day Private Tour

The Paine River's Salto Grande waterfall
The Paine River's Salto Grande waterfall

Today, you will be picked up and embark on a journey around Torres del Paine National Park.

Explore Torres del Paine's unique ecosystem and impressive viewpoints at your own pace. Throughout the day you will be transported to different areas of the park that serve as the perfect bases for viewing wildlife and stunning landscapes as well as embarking on some short hikes. Against the backdrop of the park's iconic horn-shaped peaks and glacial lakes, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch before being transferred to your accommodation in the park at the end of the day.

Day 5: Full-Day Trek to the Base of Torres del Paine

At the base of Torres del Paine
At the base of Torres del Paine

Today you'll embark on an unforgettable full-day trek to the iconic towers of Torres del Paine. The route covers 11 miles (18 km) and lasts about eight hours. Every step of the way you will enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forest, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. You'll likely even spot some impressive local avian varieties, like condors and black eagles. 

After an early morning start, you'll begin with a hike up Almirante Nieto, a mountain with incredible views of Lake Nordenskjold and the Asencio Valley. After two hours of hiking steadily upward, you will arrive at Refugio Chileno, a great place to enjoy your lunch. From here, continue onto the Las Torres lookout and hike about an hour through a dense lenga forest. Once you leave the forest you will approach a moraine and climb to see the amazing granite peaks known as the Torres.  After admiring the view, return to Refugio Torres Central where you can gather your things and catch a transfer and then a bus back to Puerto Natales. 

Day 6: Ultima Esperanza Sound Boat Tour & Bernardo O'Higgins National Park

Trail leading to Serrano Glacier
The trail leading to Serrano Glacier

After breakfast, board a boat tour of the Ultima Esperanza Sound, a fjord adjacent to Puerto Natales. During the voyage, you'll have the opportunity to stop at many viewpoints and see glaciers, waterfalls, and cliffs. Keep an eye out for condors flying overhead. 

Next, arrive in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, Chile's largest national park and one that few have the opportunity to visit. Here you will disembark for a short walk through the native forests of Coigues, Ñirres, and Ciruelillos until reaching the impressive Serrano Glacier. After some time to explore this beautiful and remote forest you'll once again board the boat and head to the nearby Estancia Perales for a filling lunch of typical Patagonian barbecue (vegetarian options are also available). 

Afterward, you will return to Puerto Natales for the evening. 

Day 7: Transfer to Punta Arenas, Fly to Santiago & Depart

Farewell, Chile!
Farewell, Chile!

It's time to say goodbye to Patagonia and Chile. Today you’ll take a bus from Torres del Paine back to Puerto Natales where you will catch another onward bus to the airport and board your onward flight. Safe travels!

More Chile Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Chile? Check out these other Chile and Patagonia itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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