- Stroll the streets of Santiago, one of the most dynamic and romantic capitals in Latin America
- Tour the Atacama Desert and visit lagoons and geysers
- Visit Chilean Patagonia, Lago General Carrera, and the famed Marble Caves
|Day 1||Arrive in Santiago de Chile, Explore||Santiago|
|Day 2||Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 3||Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour, Lagoons & Salt Flats||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 4||Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 5||Fly to Balmaceda via Santiago, Free Afternoon||Balmaceda|
|Day 6||Marble Caves Full-Day Tour||Balmaceda|
|Day 7||Return to Santiago, Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Santiago de Chile, Explore
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, the most magnificent viewpoint 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. Enjoy the reconnoitering, and if you're not the hiking type, don't 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 out, 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 all the way 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 (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 US 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, leave 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: Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour
This morning, transfer from your hotel in Santiago 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 a 1.5-hour 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'll 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, whose flaming red mountains form the base of the Valley of the Moon.
Upon arrival at San Pedro, you'll 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'll 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 by 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 3: Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour, Lagoons & Salt Flats
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 31 miles (50 km) 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 flamingoes 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 toward the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, located at a whopping 13,779 feet (4,200 m) 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 from volcanic rocks. You'll also visit the whitewashed church with its famous three-storied bell tower. The church 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.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village
Today's an early start as you'll depart the hotel at 4:30 am 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 10 meters (30 feet).
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 relax 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 flamingoes that reside in nearby marshlands.
You'll then return to San Pedro for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.
Day 5: Fly to Balmaceda via Santiago, Free Afternoon
In the morning, you'll transfer one hour from San Pedro to the airport in Calama for your flight to Balmaceda via Santiago. You've now gone from one extreme to the other, from the arid deserts of Northern Chile to the untamed nature of Chilean Patagonia. Balmaceda itself is tiny, a little village of merely 500 people. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and check-in. You'll have the remainder of the day to relax and explore.
Day 6: Marble Caves Full-Day Tour
After breakfast, a driver will meet you, and you'll ride south for about four hours to Puerto Río Tranquilo, a town located on General Carrera Lake. The drive down may be long, but it's packed with stunning scenery as you make your way through Cerro Castillo National Park and its thick Nothofagus forest, passing the Chiguay Lagoon and into the Río Murta Valley before reaching the azure waters of General Carrera.
Puerto Río Tranquilo is the base for boat tours to the Capillas de Mármol, a network of marble caves near the lakeshore. These are the result of thousands of years of erosion, and the deep white crevices at the base of the giant marble pillars shine iridescent in the reflection of the water. Be sure to take plenty of photos when you tour these caves because they're guaranteed to impress. Later in the day, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 7: Return to Santiago, Depart
It's been quite the adventure, but as the old saying goes, all good things must end. At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Santiago and meet your connecting flight home.
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