Outdoor adventurers rejoice because we've curated a 15-day itinerary that covers the unparalleled natural beauty of Chile. First, you'll head to the far north of the country and tour the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Then it's off to Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Park, home to the most awe-inspiring mountains and unspoiled nature in Chile. You'll then finish the journey far west in the Pacific, amid the mysterious stone idols of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.

Highlights

  • Visit Santiago's artsy and upscale neighbors: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
  • Tour the salt flats, geysers, and indigenous towns of the northern Atacama Desert
  • Explore several lakes in Torres del Paine—Chile's crown jewel of national parks
  • Take an 11-mile hike to the base of the Paine Massif for incredible views
  • Get your fill of Polynesian culture (and warm ocean breezes) on Easter Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Viña del Mar & Valparaiso Excursion Santiago
Day 3 Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama - Moon Valley Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Atacama Desert: Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Atacama Desert: Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 San Pedro de Atacama to Calama - Fly to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 7 Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 8 Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers Torres del Paine
Day 9 Torres del Paine: Lake Pehoé & Grey Lake Torres del Paine
Day 10 Torres del Paine: Sarmiento Lake & Laguna Amarga Torres del Paine
Day 11 Torres del Paine to Santiago Santiago
Day 12 Fly from Santiago to Easter Island Easter Island
Day 13 Easter Island: Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour Easter Island
Day 14 Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi Tour Easter Island
Day 15 Easter Island 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: Viña del Mar & Valparaiso Excursion

The colorful streets of Valparaiso
The colorful streets of Valparaiso

Today you'll leave the capital on an excursion to central Chile's Pacific Coast. You're in for a treat because on this trip you'll be visiting two incredible neighboring cities: Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. These places are unique in that they're as different atmospherically as they are close in proximity. 

First, you'll arrive in Viña del Mar, an upscale coastal resort city teeming with shopping complexes, commercial high-rises, boutiques, and well-manicured gardens. The city's modern image is the result of many buildings being rebuilt after the numerous earthquakes that have hit the Chilean coast over the years. That said, you can still find some early 20th century landmarks, like the Germanic Wulff Castle and the Venetian-Gothic Vergara Palace, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. Indeed this city is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants on the shore. 

Your next visit is to the port city of Valparaiso, located adjacent to Viña del Mar. This colorful metropolis is the artistic and bohemian soul of the country. It's filled with street art, music, and poetry. Moreover, it's a throwback to the turn of the 20th century when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and lurching funicular elevators carried passengers to the highest points in the city.

You can start exploring Valparaiso by visiting the old plazas of Sotomayor and Aníbal Pinto. Then hop in the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top. From here you can wander the hilly neighborhoods of Cerro AlegreCerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. It's on this last hill where you'll find La Sebastiana, a museum that was once the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. No matter where you go here, you can always find sweeping views looking out over the colorful houses to the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss. 

Afterward,  it's time to hop back in the minivan, transfer to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Day 3: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama - Moon Valley Tour

Church of San Pedro de Atacama
Church of San Pedro de Atacama

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, this small town sits 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, 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 4: Atacama Desert: 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 5: Atacama Desert: 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 6: San Pedro de Atacama to Calama - Fly to Punta Arenas

Colorful architecture in Punta Arenas
Colorful architecture in 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.

Day 7: Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine

Guanacos in Torres del Paine
Guanacos in Torres del Paine

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, return to your hotel in the park to enjoy a relaxing evening.

Day 8: Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers

Base of Torres del Paine
Base of Torres del Paine

After breakfast, you'll head up to the base of the Torres del Paine towers 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 9: Torres del Paine: Lake Pehoé & Grey Lake

Take an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier
Take an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier

After breakfast in your hotel, you'll meet your guide and transfer by car to the western lakes of Torres del Paine. On the way, you’ll enjoy amazing views of the surrounding mountains and especially the Cuernos del Paine. You'll of course stop off at viewpoints along the way to relish the scenery and take copious pictures. Be sure to keep an eye out for the local wildlife, like guanacos, condors, and foxes.

You'll continue south towards the edge of Lake Pehoé, which affords sweeping views further south to Lake Toro. Then you'll head a short distance east to Lake Grey. Once there, you’ll enjoy a delicious picnic lunch on the shore rest up before embarking on an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier. On this trip, you will get close-up views of the 30-meter (98-foot) walls of this impressive ice mass in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. If you get lucky and keep an eye on the surrounding southern beech forests you may even spot some endangered Andean deer. 

After the boat trip, you will return to your hotel.

Day 10: Torres del Paine: Sarmiento Lake & Laguna Amarga

On the move in Torres del Paine
On the move in Torres del Paine

This morning you'll venture out on a full-day excursion to the east side of the park. First, you'll arrive at a viewpoint looking out over Sarmiento, the second-largest lake in Torres del Paine. It's the perfect spot to snap epic photos of the mountain landscapes as well as the guanacos that live in the area.

You'll then arrive at Laguna Amarga, notable for the alkaline waters that result in its surface being so glassy and attractive. Also here is a stunning view of the Paine Massif. You'll stop nearby at another lagoon called Blanquillos—this one a natural habitat for endemic birds like ducks, black-necked swans, and geese. The hike continues to a rocky outcropping where you can see 20 cave paintings that date back about 6,000 years. You'll follow the path up to the Sarmiento Lake gatehouse where you'll enjoy a box lunch and a peaceful respite from the day's exertions.

In the afternoon you'll begin the hike back to your lodging in Torres del Paine.

Day 11: Torres del Paine to Santiago

Goodbye, Torres del Paine
Goodbye, Torres del Paine

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, perhaps visiting some cultural sites, wine bars, or restaurants you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. 

Day 12: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island

Moai, Easter Island's literal figureheads
Moai, Easter Island's literal figureheads

After breakfast, you'll make your way to the most remote inhabited land in the world: Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it's commonly known. The trip involves a transfer from your hotel to the airport where you'll catch a three-hour flight to the island. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, you can spend the remainder of the day exploring at your leisure.

There are around 600 stone figures, or moai, on this island—some of which reach 32 feet (10 m) in height. You’ll find many of them standing on the stone ahu (ceremonial pillars) that dot the island’s green hillsides. For a bit of history, these were fashioned out of volcanic rock by the first Polynesian settlers after they arrived in 800 CE. The figures themselves represent 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— tore down many idols believing they outlasted their usefulness.

By the 19th century, Europeans, smallpox, and slavery arrived annihilating some of the population, while more emigrated to Tahiti to work on plantations. Eventually, the population rebounded and Rapa Nui was annexed to Chile in 1888. Locals today are governed under a council of indigenous chiefs.

Suggested activities on the island:

  • Explore Hanga Roa. This is the main town on Easter Island with 3,000 residents, or roughly 87% of the island's inhabitants. Hanga Roa has a small-town coastal vibe with restaurants serving 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. Here there are some moai as well as caves nearby. It also makes a great sunset-viewing spot for your first night on the island.

Day 13: Easter Island: Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour

Ahu Te Pito Kura, Easter Island
Ahu Te Pito Kura, Easter Island

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 14: Easter Island: Orongo & Ahu Akivi Tour

View of Motu Nui from Orongo
View of Motu Nui from Orongo

Today is another exciting day of exploring Easter Island—this time, though, you'll take part in two half-day tours to Orongo and Ahu Akivi.

Starting after breakfast, 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 took root on Rapa Nui in the 16th century after locals 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 would be crowned the next chief. The contest involved a group of men swimming to two nearby islands and waiting until terns laid their first eggs of the season. Whoever returned with the first egg became chief for a year (the "Birdman"). 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 place is unique: not only is it home to seven moai, but in ancient times it also doubled as a celestial observatory. In other words, 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 can 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.

Day 15: Easter Island to Santiago - Departure

Say goodbye to Rapa Nui
Say goodbye to Rapa Nui

Today marks your last day on the island! Depending on your flight schedule, you should have some free 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.

Map

Map of Chile Grand Tour - 15 Days
Map of Chile Grand Tour - 15 Days