- Tour the salt flats, geysers, and indigenous towns of the northern Atacama Desert
- Hike through Torres del Paine, the crown jewel of national parks in Chilean Patagonia
- Visit Easter Island and learn the secrets of the moai—great stone idols found nowhere else on earth
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago de Chile||Santiago|
|Day 2||Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama & Moon Valley Tour||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 3||Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 4||Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 5||From San Pedro de Atacama to Punta Arenas||Punta Arenas|
|Day 6||Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine & Full-Day Excursion||Puerto Natales|
|Day 7||Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers||Torres del Paine|
|Day 8||Explore Torres del Paine National Park||Torres del Paine|
|Day 9||Torres del Paine to Santiago||Santiago|
|Day 10||Fly from Santiago to Easter Island||Easter Island|
|Day 11||Easter Island: Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour||Easter Island|
|Day 12||Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi||Easter Island|
|Day 13||Easter Island to Santiago & Departure|
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile
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: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama & Moon Valley Tour
This morning, transfer from your hotel in Santiago to the airport for your flight to Calama. Upon arrival in Calama, transfer to San Pedro de Atacama for check-in.
Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama! Located in the Antofagasta region of the high Chile arid plateau, San Pedro de Atacama is a small town at the edge of the driest desert of the world. Little adobe houses and cozy restaurants are a comfortable base to explore one of Chile’s most spectacular and dramatic landscapes.
After you've had a chance to settle in, go from San Pedro de Atacama and drive to the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna). Here, you’ll take a walk through a magnificent landscape made of sand dunes and sculpted calcareous mountains. Enjoy the sunset in the Moon Valley with an evening drink before returning to San Pedro. de Atacama.
Day 3: 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 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: 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 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 5: From San Pedro de Atacama to Punta Arenas
After breakfast, transfer to the Calama airport for your flight to Punta Arenas via Santiago. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, you'll transfer by private car to your hotel.
You're now in the major transport hub in one of the most beautiful regions of Chile. 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.
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.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine & Full-Day Excursion
Early this morning, depart from your hotel in Punta Arenas for 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 reaching Torres del Paine it's time to start the extensive full-day tour. You'll visit some of the park's main attractions, such as the Amarga Lagoon, which features views of the iconic peaks of the Horns of Paine (part of the Cordillera Paine). You'll also trek alongside Salto Grande, the famous thundering waterfalls found in this national park. At noon, you'll enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the park before continuing on the excursion. Finally, at the end of the day, you'll depart the park for Puerto Natales, where you'll spend the night.
Day 7: Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers
After breakfast, your excursion into the park will begin. Today you'll be heading up to the base of Torres del Paine on one of the most popular hiking routes in the park. Although it can be completed in less than a day, this hike is strenuous and requires a good level of physical fitness. However, the stunning views at the base of the Paine massif make it well worth the effort.
The trekking route covers 18 km (11 miles) and lasts about nine hours. Every step of the way you will enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forest, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. You'll likely even spot some impressive local avian varieties, like condors and black eagles.
Your route will begin at the Las Torres Hostel and will take you over the Ascencio River, at which point you'll ascend about 2.5 km to a lookout featuring panoramic views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. Then you'll continue through sections of lenga forest until the remaining 45-minute stretch, which is a steep ascent that involves a hard scramble over a moraine to the final path leading up to the viewpoint.
This is the hardest portion of the hike, However, once you arrive at the lagoon at the base of the Paine Massif and stare up at the nearby Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) jutting into the sky, you'll likely forget all about your exhaustion. Upon arrival, you’ll have ample time to rest by the lagoon and marvel at the amazing rock formations as you enjoy a delicious picnic lunch.
Afterward, you'll begin the return trip back down the trail. The descent takes approximately four hours, at the end of which you'll arrive back to the hotel.
Day 8: Explore Torres del Paine National Park
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 9: Torres del Paine to Santiago
Today, you’ll take a private transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to the Punta Arenas airport. You'll then hop on a domestic flight to Santiago. Upon arrival in Santiago, you'll have the remainder of the day to relax and explore at your leisure.
Day 10: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island
Today you'll arrive at the most remote inhabited land in the world: Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it's commonly known. After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the airport where you'll catch a flight to the island. The flight time is three hours, so you'll arrive on Rapa Nui with most of the afternoon to spare. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, you can spend the remainder of the day exploring.
There are around 600 stone figures, or moai, on this island some of which reach 10 meters in height. You’ll find many of them standing on the stone ahu (ceremonial pillars) that dot the island’s green hillsides. They were fashioned out of volcanic rock by obsidian tools by the first settlers from Polynesia sometime after they arrived in 800 CE. The figures themselves represented 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 they tore down many of the idols, having believed them to have outlasted their usefulness.
By the 19th century Europeans, smallpox, and slavery arrived, wiping out some of the population while more emigrated to Tahiti to work on the plantations. Eventually, the population rebounded and Rapa Nui was annexed to Chile in 1888. Today locals are governed ostensibly under the oversight of a council of indigenous chiefs.
Some recommended activities on the island include:
Explore Hanga Roa. This is the main town on Easter Island. There are just over 3,000 residents here, which comprise 87% of the island's inhabitants. Hanga Roa has a small-town coastal vibe and you can find restaurants serving unique food like 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, one of the aforementioned ceremonial altars, this one fronts the ocean. Here there are some moai as well as caves nearby. It also makes a great sunset-viewing spot.
Day 11: Easter Island: Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour
After breakfast, you will embark on a full-day tour of the island. It's an informative journey that will shed light on Rapa Nui's famous archeological sites. You'll start at Ahu Te Pito Kura, a unique rock structure featuring a central stone that, legend has it, was brought over by a king of the first tribes and supposedly still emits spiritual power.
Then it's off to Rano Raraku, an impressive volcanic crater, at the base of which you will find many moai. After that, you'll enjoy a delicious snack at Ahu Tongariki, which is considered the biggest ceremonial platform on the island. Here there are fifteen moai displayed in a row. After touring the site, you'll visit another ceremonial platform called Ahu Akahang and finish the day at the beautiful white-sand beach of Anakena.
Day 12: Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi
In the morning, 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 was the belief system that took root on Rapa Nui in the 1500s after locals mostly 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 be crowned the next chief. The contest involved a group of men swimming to two nearby islands and waiting some time until terns laid their first eggs of the season. Whoever returned with the first egg became chief for a year (the "Birdman") and 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 ahu is unique in that, not only is it home to seven moai, but in ancient times it also doubled as a celestial observatory. That's right, 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'll 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, which for ancient islanders doubled as a quarry in which they extracted the rocks necessary to carve the moai.
Orongo Tour Duration: Half day
Ahu Akivi Tour Duration: Half day
Day 13: Easter Island to Santiago & Departure
This marks your last day on the island. Depending on your flight schedule, you should have some time to explore Rapa Nui a bit more before transferring to the airport. You'll then hop a flight back to Santiago and catch your connecting flight home.