To first-timers in Chile, visiting this country is like happening upon a great secret. Its natural beauty is as diverse as it is extensive. Throughout the length of this narrow, 4,270-km (2,653-mile) country there's high-altitude deserts, a lake region abounding with volcanoes and wild rivers, and of course, the primal and unspoiled beauty that is Chilean Patagonia. You'll get to visit all three of these regions on this extensive 15-day itinerary, plus you'll even find time for wine tasting.

Highlights

  • Go wine tasting in Chile's famous Casablanca Valley
  • Hike around Osorno Volcano and marvel at the natural beauty of Chile's Lake District
  • Visit a penguin colony in Patagonia
  • Trek around Torres del Paine, the most famous national park in Chile
  • Tour the salt flats, geysers, and indigenous towns of the northern Atacama Desert

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley Santiago
Day 3 Casablanca Valley Wine Tour Santiago
Day 4 Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 5 Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohué Falls & Todos los Santos Lake Puerto Varas
Day 6 Chiloé National Park Tour & Overnight in Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 7 Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 8 Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony & Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Days 9-10 Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Day 11 Torres del Paine to Santiago Santiago
Day 12 Santiago to Calama - Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 13 Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 14 Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 15 San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & 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: Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley

Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley
Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley

After breakfast, you'll depart from your hotel in Santiago and drive about an hour west towards the coast. Your destination is the Casablanca Valley, which is home to many top wineries. Here you'll take a tour, tasting, and enjoy lunch at the wonderful Casa del Bosque Winery.

After lunch, you'll continue the short distance to the coast and the cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. First up is the port city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its colorful hillside neighborhoods, winding stairways, and abundance of street art. It's a throwback to a time when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and funicular elevators carried people high into the hills. On a city tour, you'll visit some famous sites, such as Plaza de la Victoria and the Naval Academy, and ride a funicular high into the hills where panoramic vistas of the bay await. A real highlight is visiting the former home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. 

Afterward, you'll drive a short way to the adjacent town of Viña del Mar, which couldn't be more different in terms of style than its neighbor. Whereas Valparaiso is a retro artistic haven, Viña is a modern seaside hotspot abounding with sleek shopping centers and upscale restaurants. After touring around the city and waterfront, you'll return to Santiago in time for dinner.

Day 3: Casablanca Valley Wine Tour

Vineyard in the Casablanca Valley
Vineyard in the Casablanca Valley

Today you will be whisked away a mere hour west to the Valle de Casablanca. This fertile valley near the Pacific coast is ideal for growing grapes, as the sea breezes come in from offshore and provide the perfect weather conditions for them to thrive. It's also an area famous for producing organic, all natural wine grapes.

You'll tour two wineries on this trip, the first being Casa Marín. Besides producing top-quality wines, Casa Marín is famous for being Chile's first female-founded bodega. The vineyard here sits on rolling hills above the town of Lo Abarca, just over a mile from the Pacific. The tour includes a stroll around the grounds and facilities, where you'll get a sense of the ambiance and terroir, and indulge in a tasting of three wines.

The second winery you'll visit today is Viñedo Matetic, a larger, well-known vineyard. Here a bilingual guide offers a tour of the grounds, including the vineyards and the panoramic views of the valley that surrounds them. After learning a bit about the growing process, the tour culminates with a tasting in their underground cellar, where you can also purchase any bottles that strike your fancy.

After the tour, you'll return to your hotel in Santiago.

Day 4: Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas

The village of Puerto Varas
The village of Puerto Varas

After breakfast at your hotel in Santiago, you'll depart on a short flight to Puerto Montt, a port city in southern Chile that is also known as a gateway to the Andes mountains and Patagonian fjords. When you arrive, you'll meet your English-speaking guide who will transport you in a private vehicle to Puerto Varas.

From here, you'll drop your luggage at the hotel, enjoy lunch, and then re-join your guide for a tour of the charming little village of Puerto Varas next to Llanquihue Lake. Enjoy the village’s mix of German architecture and Mapuche indigenous cultural influence.

In the afternoon, drive to the famous Petrohué Waterfalls, where you'll get a great view of the snowcapped Osorno Volcano. At the end of the day, drive back to your hotel in Puerto Varas where you'll have the rest of the evening to explore the "ciudad de las rosas" or city of roses.

Day 5: Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohué Falls & Todos los Santos Lake

Petrohué Falls with Osorno in the background
Petrohué Falls with Osorno in the background

After breakfast in Puerto Varas, a driver will pick you up for a full-day scenic tour of the area, including the most famous sites such as Osorno Volcano, the Petrohué waterfalls, and Todos los Santos Lake. 

The first part of the drive takes you along the shores of Llanquihue Lake, where you'll pass the mouth of Río Pescado (Fish River). You'll also pass by the villages of La Poza and Los Riscos before reaching Ensenada, a small town that sits at the foot of Osorno Volcano. You'll begin a hike up to Osorno, stopping at different vantage points for photo opportunities.

After hiking back down, lunch will be served, after which time you'll continue toward the waterfalls of the Río Petrohué. Fed by the nearby Lago Todos Los Santos, the Petrohué is famous for its electric blue waters and cascading waterfalls that have carved a network of chutes into the surrounding basaltic lava rock. There are various pathways all around that offer different vantage points where you can observe these thundering falls in all their glory.

The tour finishes with a visit to the turquoise waters of Todos los Santos (All Saints Lake) before returning to Puerto Varas in time to enjoy dinner in town.

Day 6: Chiloé National Park Tour & Overnight in Puerto Varas

Punta Pirulil, Chiloé National Park
Punta Pirulil, Chiloé National Park

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and you'll embark on a full-day tour to Chiloé Island, and in particular Chiloé National Park, one of its natural highlights. This 430 square-km (166 square-mile) protected area encompasses a large portion of the western side of Chiloé. The region is notable for its vast Valdivian forest comprised of southern beech and alerce trees.

Your journey will take you to Playa Rahue, where you'll embark on a short hike to the famous Punta Pirulil. This lookout point offers sweeping vistas of the green Chiloé coastline and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Also here is the symbolic Muelle del Alma ("dock of the soul"), a wooden boardwalk that rises over the grassland and looks out over the western edge of the island. You'll take a rest nearby as your guide recounts some of the local history and lore. 

Afterward, you'll head back to the car and transfer to Quilque, an indigenous community where you'll stop in at a local house for a traditional lunch. Then, later in the afternoon, there's one last stop in Chiloé National Park for an easy hike on the El Tepual Trail, which will take you along more boardwalks surrounded by stunning temperate rainforest.

Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Puerto Varas and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 7: Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas

It's time to go deep into Chilean Patagonia! The journey starts in the morning with a private transfer to the airport at Puerto Montt where you'll catch a flight to Punta Arenas, a city located near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. Due to its location on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Punta Arenas is often used as a base for excursions to the surrounding wilderness and Antarctica.

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and will have the rest of the evening to explore the city at your leisure. 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 hub, 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 a number of 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 streetlamps 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. 
  • Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head seven 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.

Also, be sure to head out in the evening and enjoy a local dinner. Obviously, 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 8: Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony & Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park

The colony of penguins on Isla Magdalena is enormous
The colony of penguins on Isla Magdalena is enormous

This half-day tour begins bright and early. You'll transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan, at which point you'll board a vessel that will take you 30 km (18.6 miles) northeast to Isla Magdalena. 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 whose numbers top a thousand. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. You'll also find a number of seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.

Now it's time to arrive at Isla Magdalena, where you'll disembark and spend one hour on shore. During this time you'll follow a 2,624 foot (800 m) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, be sure to enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 in number. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan and made famous by Charles Darwin.

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

After enjoying lunch in Punta Arenas, you'll transfer to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park. On the way, you'll certainly spot some of the local fauna, including many species of birds as well as the guanaco, a wild camelid related to the llama. 

Upon arrival in Torres del Paine, you'll check in to your hotel, and you'll have the rest of the day to relax and explore the scenery at your leisure. 

Note: the order of the destinations you visit is subject to change on the day of the excursion.

Days 9-10: Torres del Paine National Park

A guanaco considers Torres del Paine
A guanaco considers Torres del Paine

Today is a free day in Torres del Paine. Take the opportunity to enjoy the park's various hiking trails and breathtaking views. You can choose from several half or full-day tours. 

Regarding the shorter tours, you might be surprised at how much you can see of Torres del Paine in just three or four hours. Whether by foot, horse, or vehicle, these half-day guided excursions are packed with adventure and interesting information about the park’s flora, fauna, geology, and history. An experienced guide will take you to impressive natural wonders like the Salto Grande waterfall and Laguna Azul. All throughout the journey, you'll pass through exotic lenga forests abounding with wildlife. 

Full-day excursions tend to last between seven and 10 hours, and they leave in the morning after breakfast at your hotel. Embarking on one of these outings gives you an opportunity to explore the best hiking paths, horse trails, scenic roads, and the various lakes of Torres del Paine. For full-day tours, the hotel will prepare a box lunch that you can take with you, as well as enough water and snacks to keep you energized for your park adventure. One such optional full-day adventure is a boat tour to the famous Grey Glacier, which feeds the lake of the same name.

Day 11: Torres del Paine to Santiago

Farewell, Torres del Paine
Farewell, Torres del Paine

It's time to say farewell to Torres del Paine. Not to worry, though, as your Patagonian adventure doesn't end here. A driver will meet you in the early morning for the three-hour transfer to Punta Arenas. You'll then hop a flight back to Santiago and check into an airport hotel for just one night. Get ready, because tomorrow you're off to a whole new region: northern Patagonia and the famed Aysén region.

Day 12: 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 13: 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 14: Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village

Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers
Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers

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 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), 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.

You'll then return to San Pedro for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.

Day 15: San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & Departure

Moon Valley at sunset
Moon Valley at sunset

This morning, you'll have free time 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 the international terminal for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!