This 13-day trip combines two bucket-list items in Chile rarely visited by tourists. Kick off with a day in Santiago before you’re jetting off again—this time to the South Pacific. Halfway between Tahiti and Chile, Easter Island is graced with white sand beaches and 600+ mysterious statues carved from volcanic rock. The second half of the trip takes place in a high-altitude desert on the mainland for sand dunes, geysers, hot springs, and starry skies—perfect for sipping Chilean wine.

Highlights

  • Check out Santiago’s cobblestoned streets in Barrio Bellavista
  • Spend three days on the most remote inhabited spot on earth
  • Get your fill of Polynesian culture in a veritable open-air museum
  • Explore the sand dunes in Moon Valley followed by sunset
  • Photograph street art in Valparaiso while riding the funiculars

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Easter Island Easter Island
Day 3 Easter Island: Highlights Tour Easter Island
Day 4 Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi Tour Easter Island
Day 5 Easter Island: Free Day Easter Island
Day 6 Fly from Easter Island to Santiago Santiago
Day 7 Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 8 Moon & Death Valleys San Pedro de Atacama
Day 9 Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 10 Tatio Geysers, Machuca Village & Puritama Hot Springs San Pedro de Atacama
Day 11 Flight from Calama to Santiago Santiago
Day 12 Day-Trip to Viña del Mar & Valparaiso Santiago
Day 13 Depart Santiago  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Hike or take a gondola up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal
Hike or take a gondola up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal

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, where you can 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: catch a scenic gondola instead.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Stroll past colorful houses adorned with graffiti art and choose between an eclectic array of eateries and bars—great for people watching. 

  • Visit the Plaza de Armas, a stone plaza located in Santiago's historic center dating to 1541. There's also the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 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 a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas. 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. Visitors are welcome.

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 all the way 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 from Santiago to Easter Island

Moai, Easter Island's literal figureheads
Moai, Easter Island's literal figureheads

After breakfast, you'll make your way to the most remote inhabited land in the world: Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it's commonly known. The trip involves a transfer from your hotel to the airport where you'll catch a three-hour flight to the island. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, you can spend the remainder of the day exploring at your leisure.

There are around 600 stone figures, or moai, on this island—some of which reach 32 feet (10 m) in height. You’ll find many of them standing on the stone ahu (ceremonial pillars) that dot the island’s green hillsides. For a bit of history, these were fashioned out of volcanic rock by the first Polynesian settlers after they arrived in 800 CE. The figures themselves represent deceased leaders of the five tribes that once inhabited the island, and supposedly offered spiritual protection. Around the 16th century, the islanders exceeded their natural resources, and—as a result of famine and war— tore down many idols believing they outlasted their usefulness.

By the 19th century, Europeans, smallpox, and slavery arrived annihilating some of the population, while more emigrated to Tahiti to work on plantations. Eventually, the population rebounded and Rapa Nui was annexed to Chile in 1888. Locals today are governed under a council of indigenous chiefs.

Suggested activities on the island:

  • Explore Hanga Roa. This is the main town on Easter Island with 3,000 residents, or roughly 87% of the island's inhabitants. Hanga Roa has a small-town coastal vibe with restaurants serving ceviche, empanadas stuffed with fresh tuna, po'e (a pumpkin and plantain cake), and taro ice cream. 

  • Visit the Museo Antropológico Sebastián Englert. For an intro to island life, come to this anthropological museum and view exhibits celebrating the indigenous patrimony, such as ancient tools, totems, sculptures, and more.

  • Take a hike outside of town to Ahu Tahai. Here there are some moai as well as caves nearby. It also makes a great sunset-viewing spot for your first night on the island.

Day 3: Easter Island: Highlights Tour

A traveler basks in the sun on Easter Island
A traveler basks in the sun on Easter Island

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll meet your guide for a full-day tour exploring Easter Island’s attractions in more detail.

Your first stop is the archaeological site called Ahu Te Pito Kura where you can see the only fallen moai that have stayed in position over time. Then it's a trip to the bright-green Rano Raraku Volcano, where all the island’s moai and other statues were made.

From here, you'll be served a delicious snack at Ahu Tongariki, which is considered to be the biggest built ceremonial structure on the island. In fact, it has fifteen Moai displayed in a row. There will be some time to look around before you continue to an ancient ceremonial platform called Ahu Akahanga. Round out the spectacular tour at the beautiful Anakena Beach where you can walk around and take photos, laze under a palm tree, or dig your toes in the sand.

Later in the afternoon, you'll be dropped off at your hotel where you'll have the rest of the evening to explore on your own.

Day 4: Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi Tour

View of Motu Nui from Orongo
View of Motu Nui from Orongo

Today is another exciting day of exploring Easter Island—this time, though, you'll take part in two half-day tours to Orongo and Ahu Akivi.

Starting after breakfast, you'll travel a few minutes to the southwest corner of Rapa Nui and the remains of the village of Orongo. Located on the rim of an inactive volcano called Rano Kau, this area enjoys a special place in the island's history as it was the principal site of what's known as the "Birdman" era. The cult of the Birdman took root on Rapa Nui in the 16th century after locals gave up on the moai due to war and famine. 

The cult of the Birdman was also a contest. In order to appease their deity, called Meke-Meke, islanders would hold an annual competition to see who would be crowned the next chief. The contest involved a group of men swimming to two nearby islands and waiting until terns laid their first eggs of the season. Whoever returned with the first egg became chief for a year (the "Birdman"). Orango was the ceremonial village in which he was crowned. 

You will not only visit the village and the volcano but also a cave by the sea known as Ana Kai Tangata. Inside this cave, you'll see petroglyphs done by the ancient inhabitants of the island. This excursion ends in the early afternoon and concludes the first tour of the day. 

The second tour involves a trip about a mile inland to visit Ahu Akivi. This place is unique: not only is it home to seven moai, but in ancient times it also doubled as a celestial observatory. In other words, this is where islanders came to stargaze. (An interesting feature is that the seven moai all face sunset during the spring equinox and their backs are to the sunrise during autumn.)

While here you can take a short hike to two other archaeological sites: the cave of Ana Te Pahu, the largest cavern on Rapa Nui, and the Puna Pau volcano.

Day 5: Easter Island: Free Day

Aerial view of Anakena Beach
Aerial view of Anakena Beach

Today is a free day to enjoy the island any way you'd like. If you're feeling active, there are opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and surfing, while on land, explore the island's beauty by bike, foot, or horseback.

If all you want to do is recharge the batteries, simply spend a day at the beach. Anakena is arguably the best one (you'll remember this from your tour stop a few days ago), as it receives few visitors—especially in the morning since most tours come in the afternoon. If lucky, you'll likely get this small bit of paradise to yourself. 

In addition to its restored monuments, Ahu Ature Huki and Nau Nau, the beach is known for its warm water and pristine white sand—an inviting place to sunbathe and swim year-round. On the outskirts of the beach you'll find two restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. To spend your last day here relaxing with the spiritual statues nearby is a special experience.

Day 6: Fly from Easter Island to Santiago

Catch one more sunrise on the island
Catch one more sunrise on the island

Today is your last day on the island! Depending on your flight time, you will likely have the morning to explore the island a bit more at your own pace.

At the given time, you'll be picked up from your hotel in a minibus to be transferred to Easter Island airport for your return flight to Santiago. You'll likely arrive back in the city in the mid-evening in time for a late dinner. 

Day 7: Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour

The Valley of the Moon
The Valley of the Moon

This morning, transfer from your hotel to the airport for your flight to the city of Calama, located in the far north of the country. Upon arrival, another driver will meet you for the hour-and-20-minute drive to the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the embarkation point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.

During the journey between these two places, you will see some of the most evocative and ancient landscapes anywhere in the world. This high-altitude desert abounds with seemingly endless salt flats, painted hills that change color depending on the light, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, where flaming red mountains create the base of Moon Valley.

Upon arrival at San Pedro, you will check into your hotel and relax for the remainder of the afternoon until it's time for your first excursion. At the scheduled time, a driver will meet you and you'll transfer 15 minutes outside of town into the desert. This is where you'll enjoy the evening's stargazing outing. 

First, you will sit for a 20-minute presentation where you'll learn some basic astronomy concepts. You'll then head outside to the open Altiplano and learn how to identify various constellations. This desert plateau is an ideal spot for stargazing due to its high altitude (about 2,308 meters/7,900 feet). Even seen from the naked eye, the stars here are more vivid than anything you've likely experienced before. Finally, the outing culminates by viewing the sky through high-powered telescopes and binoculars. You'll be able to spot a wide array of celestial objects, including planets, binary stars, spherical clusters, and others. Even better, you'll do your stargazing accompanied by a glass of good Chilean wine.

At the end of this astronomical outing, you'll return to San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 8: Moon & Death Valleys

The aptly named Moon Valley
The aptly named Moon Valley

Today, you'll depart early in the morning from San Pedro de Atacama and travel along the mountains of the Cordillera de la Sal. This region was once a giant lake that eventually dried and rose above the Atacama Desert. Millions of years of erosion by rain, wind, and sun resulted in the stratifications, different colorations, and natural sculptures that exist here today.

The first visit is to the Valley of the Moon, part of Los Flamencos National Reserve. It's particularly famous for its salt sculptures known as "Las Tres Marias," which were also formed by wind erosion. This caused the terrain to become similar to the lunar surface, which is how it got its name.

Then it's off to the Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death). Hyperbole aside, it actually earned its name due to the high dunes with narrow ridges that exist throughout the area. Not surprisingly, these dunes also make ideal spots for sandboarding. There are also large salt formations here that have been sculpted by the elements over the millennia. 

The tour ends at one of the highest points of the Cordillera de la Sal, where you'll watch the sunset from the Mirador de Kari viewpoint, which is a singularly beautiful experience. Afterward, you will transfer back to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 9: Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats

The Chilean Altiplano
The Chilean Altiplano

Today you'll embark on a full-day excursion into the Atacama Desert. After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at the hotel and you'll head out to the first destination: Laguna Chaxa. Located 50 km (31 miles) from San Pedro sits this desert oasis in the middle of the Atacama Salar salt flats. Also here is the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Even from afar you'll be able to spot the Chilean flamingos that call this reserve home as their pink feathers shine brightly against the contrasting blue of the shallow water.

At lunchtime, the tour will stop in Socaire, a humble agricultural village famous for its simple adobe homes, rustic chapel, and slow pace of life. After eating, the tour will continue towards the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, which are located at a whopping 4,200 meters (13,779 feet) in elevation. You might feel a bit lightheaded, so try not to exert yourself and be sure to drink plenty of water. Enjoy the panoramic views of an altiplano desert surrounded by towering volcanoes and abounding with wildlife like flamencos, foxes, and vicunas.

The last stop on the tour is a visit to the town of Toconao, an oasis with a climate ideal for the cultivation of native fruits and vegetables. You'll stroll the streets, shop for handicrafts, and admire local homes cobbled together out of volcanic rocks. You'll also visit the white-washed church with its famous three-storied belltower. The church itself dates back to 1750 and has been declared a national monument. 

Finally, at around 6 pm, you'll return to your hotel and can enjoy the rest of the evening in town. Note that the day's itinerary may vary according to weather and road conditions.

Day 10: Tatio Geysers, Machuca Village & Puritama Hot Springs

Geysers in the early morning light
Geysers in the early morning light

Today's an early morning—you'll depart the hotel at the crack of dawn for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends, though, as seeing the sun rise over the Atacama Desert is a singular experience. Also, sunrise is the best time to visit Tatio. The contrast between the cold outside temperatures and the boiling water of the geothermal field beneath the earth's surface causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 32 feet (10 m). 

At an altitude of 14,173 feet (4,320 m), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. So take your time and admire these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and at the appropriate hour breakfast will be served on site. Another option is to take a relaxing soak in a natural geothermal pool—mother nature's jacuzzi.

On the return drive to San Pedro, you'll stop at Machuca, a small, humble village on the Altiplano whose residents have bred llamas and harvested Yareta (moss-like evergreen plants that can survive for thousands of years) for generations. It's a small but welcoming town, comprised of only about 20 homes and a simple chapel. That said, some locals sell crafts, and you can admire the llamas in the area as well as the flamingos that reside in nearby marshlands.

Continuing on the road that leads back to San Pedro, you'll meet up with river Puritama whose sources are hot springs managed by Hotel Explora. Water that flows down in the mountains picks up heat from volcanic activity, making this one of the most valued tourist sites of the area. You can enjoy this stop in nature with an exquisite bath rich in minerals bursting with medicinal properties. This canyon is also one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the region. Look for rare grasses and shrubs, as well as unique bird species like the Black-Hooded Sierra Finch.

After this relaxing finale to the tour, you'll return to your hotel in San Pedro. 

Day 11: Flight from Calama to Santiago

The stunning Atacama Desert
The stunning Atacama Desert

Today, you'll have a free morning to relax and explore San Pedro de Atacama on your own. In the afternoon, transfer to the Calama airport for your flight back to Santiago. Upon arrival in Santiago, transfer to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to relax in the city and explore at your leisure.

Day 12: Day-Trip to Viña del Mar & Valparaiso

The colorful streets of Valparaiso
The colorful streets of Valparaiso

Today you'll leave the capital on an excursion to central Chile's Pacific Coast. You're in for a treat because on this trip you'll be visiting two incredible neighboring cities: Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. These places are unique in that they're as different atmospherically as they are close in proximity. 

First, you'll arrive in Viña del Mar, an upscale coastal resort city teeming with shopping complexes, commercial high-rises, boutiques, and well-manicured gardens. The city's modern image is the result of many buildings being rebuilt after the numerous earthquakes that have hit the Chilean coast over the years. That said, you can still find some early 20th century landmarks, like the Germanic Wulff Castle and the Venetian-Gothic Vergara Palace, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. Indeed this city is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants on the shore. 

Your next visit is to the port city of Valparaiso, located adjacent to Viña del Mar. This colorful metropolis is the artistic and bohemian soul of the country. It's filled with street art, music, and poetry. Moreover, it's a throwback to the turn of the 20th century when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and lurching funicular elevators carried passengers to the highest points in the city.

You can start exploring Valparaiso by visiting the old plazas of Sotomayor and Aníbal Pinto. Then hop in the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top. From here you can wander the hilly neighborhoods of Cerro AlegreCerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. It's on this last hill where you'll find La Sebastiana, a museum that was once the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. No matter where you go here, you can always find sweeping views looking out over the colorful houses to the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss. 

Afterward,  it's time to hop back in the minivan, transfer to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Day 13: Depart Santiago

Goodbye for now, Santiago!
Goodbye for now, Santiago!

It's time to say farewell to Chile! In the morning, you'll transfer from your hotel to the airport in Santiago for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Atacama Desert & Easter Island - 13 Days
Map of Atacama Desert & Easter Island - 13 Days