Explore Chile's beautiful extremes on this 11-day itinerary. After getting a taste of Santiago, fly north to the Atacama desert—an oasis in the driest part in the world known for its geysers, moonscapes, and starry skies. Then, travel south to Patagonia's Torres del Paine National Park to challenge yourself on the W-trek, a world-famous route that will take you through some of the most breathtaking landscapes the park has to offer.

Highlights

  • Enjoy some of the world's best stargazing in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama
  • Visit lagoons, salt flats, and lunar landscapes in the Atacama Desert
  • Embark on the famous "W" circuit trek—four days of hiking amid mountains, glaciers, and lakes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Calama - Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Explore Yerbas Buenas, Rainbow Valley, Moon & Death Valley San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Fly from Calama to Punta Arenas & Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 6 Puerto Natales - Torres Del Paine & W Trek - Day 1/5 Torres del Paine
Day 7 W Trek - Day 2/5 Torres del Paine
Day 8 W Trek - Day 3/5 Torres del Paine
Day 9 W Trek - Day 4/5 Torres del Paine
Day 10 W Trek - Day 5/5 Torres del Paine
Day 11 Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas & Departure  

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 Calama - 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 3: 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 4: Explore Yerbas Buenas, Rainbow Valley, Moon & Death Valley

Moon & Death Valley topography
Moon & Death Valley topography

Today's Chilean adventures begin with breakfast at your hotel before meeting your guide for two distinct half-day excursions in the vast desert region.

It starts off with a visit to Yerbas Buenas. This important sample of rock art is expressed in petroglyphs with signage forms and magical religious expressions left by the Andean caravaneers in their mercantile routes. You'll then continue with a visit to the Rainbow Valley, which owes its name to the area's innumerable colors like red, green, blue, gray, and yellow, displaying the richness of minerals.

There will be time to have lunch on your own, and then you'll continue driving east to the Moon & Death Valley. This natural sanctuary offers a landscape that resembles the moon with a variety of craters and wind-sculptured rock formations. The valley offers haunting beauty which will make you wonder if you are still on planet earth. After a chance to see a beautiful sunset, paired with a cheese and wine tasting, you will return to the hotel for dinner. 

Please Note: This itinerary may vary according to weather and road conditions, however, your guide will make every effort to ensure comfort and timeliness.

Day 5: Fly from Calama to Punta Arenas & Transfer to Puerto Natales

Aerial view of Punta Arenas
Aerial view of Punta Arenas

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the Calama airport for your flight to Punta Arenas via Santiago. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, transfer to your vehicle for your drive to Puerto Natales (about 3 hours). Upon arrival in Puerto Natales, you'll transfer to your hotel, and you'll have the rest of the evening to relax and explore the town. 

This small port city 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 air of small-town tranquility. Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north from here you'll see the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and the view is phenomenal at sunset.

Day 6: Puerto Natales - Torres Del Paine & W Trek - Day 1/5

Start the trekking
Start the trekking

Early this morning, depart your hotel in Puerto Natales for Torres del Paine National Park (about 1 hour drive). Upon arrival in the park, you will begin your trekking experience. 

The trekking circuit begins with a pleasant walk on the Cuernos Trail, which runs alongside the bright turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjold. This section is more of a warm-up hike, and its easy pace allows you to admire Patagonia's remarkable flora and fauna while being surrounded by the park’s central lakes and the peaks of the Paine Massif. The hike ends at Refugio Los Cuernos, a cozy mountain refuge located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjold.

Alternatively, depending on the schedule, the trek could end at Domo el Francés, a campground featuring three dome bungalows, located between Cuernos and Refugio Italiano, which affords an amazing view of Lake Nordenskjöld. Regardless of where you overnight, you'll have the evening free to relax and enjoy dinner.

Day 7: W Trek - Day 2/5

The French Valley
The French Valley

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the dock at Pudeto where you'll board a catamaran and take a 30-minute ride across Lago Pehoé. From here you'll begin the challenging trek to Valle Frances (French Valley) on a steep trail leading near the Paine Massif. How far in you go depends on the overall speed of your particular group. If you make good time, you'll reach a hanging bridge over the French River, located at the foot of the southeast face of the massif. Here you'll be treated to stunning valley views.

You'll then hike to the upper section of the valley where you can marvel at the geological formations and glaciers. After this portion of the trek, we will pause for a picnic and relax. Your group will then descend through grassland and forest until you reach Refugio Paine Grande, located on the shores of Lake Pehoé, where you will overnight.

Note: the excursion to French Valley varies throughout the season depending on the schedule of the catamaran connecting Pudeto and Refugio Pehoé.

Day 8: W Trek - Day 3/5

Grey Glacier
Grey Glacier

Today you'll hike from Refugio Paine Grande along Lake Pehoé to the northern side of Lake Grey, which is fed by the glacier of the same name. Here you'll enjoy a picnic lunch before boarding a vessel that sails right up to the massive and jagged ice wall of Grey Glacier. From the boat, you'll likely witness great chunks of ice breaking off the wall and crashing into the water below. This is a process called "calving," which is the result of the glacier slowly encroaching ever further into the water.  

If the boat trip is canceled due to weather conditions, your group will instead trek up to a viewing point where you can marvel at panoramic vistas of the glacier. You'll also have the chance to take a kayak excursion on the lake and maneuver around the small icebergs. After, you'll return on foot to Refugio Paine Grande and take a catamaran to the dock at Pudeto, where a vehicle will meet you and transfer you to the next base camp.

Day 9: W Trek - Day 4/5

The base of the Paine Massif
The base of the Paine Massif

This is your penultimate day on one of the most famous nature treks in the world. As such, we've saved the best view for last. Today you'll be trekking up to the base of the famous Paine Massif. In the morning you'll hike to the Hotel Las Torres, at which point you'll gradually ascend through the Ascencio Valley, located on the massif's eastern face.

It's a rigorous hike but an incredible one. Along the way, you'll pass below jagged mountain ridges, through beech forests, and over small rivers. Just before the base of the massif lies the greatest obstacle of the trek: a steep moraine that requires deftly maneuvering around masses of boulders. At this point, you'll look up and the site of three gigantic granite monoliths, the result of millennia of glacial ice erosion, will tell you that you've arrived at the base of the Paine Massif. 

After the tough uphill climb, you've earned a break. So now you'll kick back on the shore of the turquoise lagoon at the foot of the massif and enjoy a picnic lunch. Savor the memory and take plenty of photos, because there aren't views quite like this anywhere in the world.

After eating, you'll backtrack along the same trail through the Ascencio Valley and return to camp for a hearty dinner.

Day 10: W Trek - Day 5/5

Laguna Azul, Torres del Paine
Laguna Azul, Torres del Paine

In contrast with yesterday's ascent to the Paine Massif, the fifth day of the W Circuit involves a much less arduous hike. After breakfast, you'll transfer by vehicle to Laguna Azul, which is notable for the views of the Paine Massif looming over it. En route you'll pass by Cañadón Macho, an area of golden hills home to wild guanacos and ñandúes (a type of Rhea). 

At Laguna Azul, you'll hike to a lookout point where you'll be treated to a gorgeous view of both the lagoon and the granite towers of the massif. After lunch, you'll drive to the northern shore of Lago Sarmiento where the Fauna Trail begins. As we hike northbound, you'll see an impressive range of Patagonian fauna on the vast plains, including guanacos, ñandús (a type of Rhea) and maybe even a puma. After approximately five km (three miles) of relaxed walking, you'll reach the Laguna Amarga ranger station. A driver will meet you here and transfer your group back to camp where you'll enjoy a celebratory dinner.

Day 11: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas & Departure

Say goodbye to Patagonia
Say goodbye to Patagonia

It's time to say goodbye to Torres del Paine and Chile. In the morning, you’ll take a private transfer from Puerto Natales to the Punta Arenas airport. There you'll catch a domestic flight to Santiago and transfer to the international terminal for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Published by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019