Check off three spectacular regions of Chile on this active 10-day itinerary. After touring the capital Santiago and the vineyards of Maipo Valley, you'll fly to the Lake District for snowcapped volcanoes and plunging waterfalls. Finish off on the southern tip of the continent for cycling, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding while staying in a sustainable EcoCamp surrounded by Patagonian scenery.

Highlights

  • Sample Santiago's trendy eateries and bars in the Bellavista district
  • Enjoy a picnic in the Andes, accompanied by Chilean wine
  • Hike to the top of Osorno Volcano stopping at different vantage points for photos
  • Boat to Isla Magdalena, home to Chile's largest colony of penguins
  • Choose between the best half and full day tours in Torres del Paine National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour Santiago
Day 3 Flight to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 4 Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohue Falls & Todos los Santos Lake Puerto Varas
Day 5 Chiloé National Park Tour Puerto Varas
Day 6 Transfer from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt & Fly to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 7 Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony - Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Days 8-9 Explore Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Day 10 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: Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour

The Maipo Valley includes a mix of rolling hills, vineyards, and Andean mountains
The Maipo Valley includes a mix of rolling hills, vineyards, and Andean mountains

Today you'll experience even more of Chile's famous natural beauty with a visit to Cajón del Maipu. After breakfast, embark on a 45-minute road trip southeast of Santiago to this popular gorge. You'll first arrive in the fertile San José de Maipo region, with its hills and vineyards. Then it's an ascent into the mountains and the landscapes become even more dramatic as massifs and snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline. That's to say nothing of the sparkling rivers and streams that wind through this paradise.

After reaching 3,000 meters above sea level (9,843 feet), you'll exit the vehicle at the shores of the Embalse de Yeso, a reservoir nestled in the Andes whose glassy surface shines bright turquoise. There will be ample time to marvel at this landscape and snap photos of the panoramic vistas. You'll also walk around the shore as your expert guide offers insight into the geology of the area as well as the history of the reservoir, a result of damming the Yeso River back in 1964.

For lunch, pull up a seat near the water and enjoy a picnic accompanied by a selection of top Chilean wine. Afterward, you'll return to San José de Maipo and stop in at a local restaurant to try a traditional Chilean empanada. Finally, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Santiago.

Day 3: Flight 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 4: Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohue 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 until ultimately reaching an impressive lookout at a height of 4,068 ft (1,240 m) above sea level. 

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's a network of pathways all around that offer various vantage points where you can observe these thundering waterfalls 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 5: Chiloé National Park Tour

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

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and you'll embark on your full-day tour into Chiloé National Park, one of the natural highlights of the island. 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 on Chiloé Island, 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. Later in the afternoon, you'll make one last stop in Chiloé National Park for an easy hike into a forest at 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 6: Transfer from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt & Fly to Punta Arenas

Colorful Punta Arenas
Colorful 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, Punta Arenas, in its heydey, 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. 

  • 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 Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head to this 33,000-acre forested reserve (known locally as Parque Japonés). There's a self-guided nature trail lined with unique 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 7: 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 in the morning. 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 18.6 miles (30 km) 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. 

Days 8-9: Explore Torres del Paine National Park

Wild horses in Torres del Paine
Wild horses in Torres del Paine

While visiting Torres del Paine National Park, you'll be able to choose between 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 human 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.

Day 10: 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 bus 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!

Map

Map of Central Chile, Lake District & Patagonia - 10 Days
Map of Central Chile, Lake District & Patagonia - 10 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019