Experience the highlights of diverse and beautiful Chile in less than two weeks. Begin in the capital Santiago with some sightseeing, before flying off to the Atacama Desert. Discover the lagoons, geysers, salt flats, and more. Then, fly to Punta Arenas for your Patagonian adventure. Visit the native wildlife of the islands, and then head into Torres del Paine National Park for two days of private tours. The final leg takes you to Easter Island to explore the ancient moai figureheads, volcanoes, and stunning beaches.

Highlights

  • Explore Santiago, and take in panoramic views from atop Cerro San Cristóbal
  • Tour the salt flats, geysers, and indigenous towns of the northern Atacama Desert
  • Hike through Torres del Paine and tour the incredible Patagonian flora and fauna 
  • Visit Easter Island and learn the secrets of the ancient moai figureheads

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago & City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Travel to San Pedro de Atacama & Moon Valley Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Atacama Desert - Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Atacama Desert - Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Fly to Punta Arenas & Self-Guided Tour Punta Arenas
Day 6 Magdalena Island, Marta Island, & Transfer to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 7 Torres del Paine - Full-Day Private Tour Torres del Paine
Day 8 Torres del Paine - Private Wildlife Tour Puerto Natales
Day 9 Fly Back to Santiago Santiago
Day 10 Fly to Easter Island  Easter Island
Day 11 Easter Island - Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour Easter Island
Day 12 Easter Island - Orongo & Ahu Akivi Tour Easter Island
Day 13 Departure From Santiago  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago and city tour

Take a cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal
Take a cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal

Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. Once settled, get out and experience the pulse of this Latin American metropolis on a guided, half-day tour. Like any great city, that pulse is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. 

Highlights of the tour include:

  • Wandering the aisles of Santiago's labyrinthine Mercado Central and Mercado La Vega. These markets are the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and local residents eager to get their hands on the day's fresh produce. With the assistance of an English-speaking guide, engage with these vendors and shoppers, learning about their daily routines, while getting the inside track on the most delicious ingredients to try.
  • A visit to the Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. There's a lot of history within the four corners of this expansive stone plaza, as it was founded all the way back in 1541. Nearby sits the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church circa 1748, with towering twin bell towers dominating the north side of the plaza.
  • Ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. Hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits high above the city.  Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.
  • Enjoy dinner in the fashionably bohemian enclave of Barrio Bellavista. This is the trendiest neighborhood in the city.  Find a diverse array of funky cafés, international eateries, and high-end restaurants here.

Day 2: Travel to San Pedro de Atacama and Moon Valley tour

Moon Valley
Moon Valley

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.

 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, 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 - Visit the lagoons and salt flats

The Chilean Altiplano
The Chilean Altiplano

Today, embark on a full-day excursion into the Atacama Desert. After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at the hotel to head to the first destination: Laguna Chaxa. Located 31 miles from San Pedro, this desert oasis sits in the middle of the Atacama Salar salt flats. Also here is Los Flamencos National Reserve. Even from afar, you can spot the Chilean flamingos that call this reserve home—their pink feathers shining brightly against the contrasting blue of the shallow water.

At lunchtime, the tour will stop in Socaire, an agricultural village famous for its simple adobe homes, rustic chapel, and slow pace of life. After the meal, the tour will continue toward the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, which are located at 13,779 feet in elevation. You might feel a bit lightheaded, so try not to exert yourself too much, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Enjoy the panoramic views of an Altiplano desert surrounded by towering volcanoes, and busy with wildlife, like flamingos, 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. Stroll the streets, shop for handicrafts, and admire local homes cobbled together out of volcanic rocks. Visit the white-washed church, with its famous three-story belltower. The church itself dates back to 1750, and has been declared a national monument. 

At around 6 pm, return to your hotel to enjoy the rest of the evening in town.

Note: The day's itinerary may vary, according to weather and road conditions.

Day 4: Atacama Desert - Discover the Tatio Geysers and Machuca Village

Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers
Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers

Today calls for an early start. Depart the hotel at 4:30 am for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will reward you with an unforgettable sunrise over the Atacama Desert—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 30 feet. 

At an altitude of 14,173 feet, the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. Take your time admiring these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and at the appropriate hour, breakfast will be served on-site. In addition, you can take an optional, relaxing soak in a natural geothermal pool—mother nature's jacuzzi.

On the return drive to San Pedro, stop at Machuca, a small 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. Some locals sell crafts you can peruse, and you can admire the llamas in the area, as well as the flamingos that reside in nearby marshlands.

Then, return to San Pedro for lunch and spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.

Day 5: Fly to Punta Arenas and self-guided tour

Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas

After breakfast, make the transfer to the Calama airport for your flight to Punta Arenas via Santiago. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, a private driver will take you 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 destination, 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 street lamps and a statue of Magellan sits in the center), the surrounding architecture is impressive, as well. All around the plaza, there are 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. 
  • Visit the Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head a few miles 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. Seafood is a staple, so sample some local specialties, like chupe de centolla (souffle of king crab), as well as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.

Day 6: Magdalena Island, Marta Island, and transfer to Torres del Paine

Visit the penguins on Magdalena Island
Visit the penguins on Magdalena Island

This half-day tour begins bright and early in the morning. Transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan. Then, board a vessel that will take you 18 miles northeast to Magdalena Island. 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. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. Scout a number of seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.

Upon arrival at Magdalena Island, disembark and spend 1 hour onshore. Follow a 2,624-foot path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 inhabitants. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan, and then made famous by Charles Darwin.

Afterward, return to the vessel and make the journey back, reaching Punta Arenas by midday. Following lunch in Punta Arenas, make the transfer to Torres del Paine National Park. On the way, keep a close watch for 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, check in to your hotel, and the rest of the day is yours 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.

Day 7: Torres del Paine - Full-day private tour

Cuernos del Paine, Torres del Paine National Park
Cuernos del Paine, Torres del Paine National Park

Today,  meet with your guide and embark on your own private journey around Torres del Paine National Park. Discover the unrivaled flora and fauna and impressive viewpoints at your own pace. Throughout the day, transport to different areas of the park known for impeccable viewing of the park's wildlife and stunning landscapes. Indulge in some short hikes, and stop for a picnic lunch along the way.

At the end of the tour, return to your hotel.

Day 8: Torres del Paine - Private wildlife tour

The guanacos of Torres del Paine
The guanacos of Torres del Paine

After breakfast, a guide will pick you up for another adventure in Torres del Paine National Park. This is your opportunity to embark on a private wildlife tour and enjoy the various flora and fauna that call this bit of Patagonian paradise home. After completing the registration process at the entrance, begin the 2-hour excursion. 

As you explore the Patagonian landscapes, your guide will point out the various species of animals and plants. Enjoy the views from different areas of the park in order to take in Patagonia's diverse wildlife from the best vantage points. Common animals here are: guanacos (a type of llama), flamingos, rabbits, rheas (a type of ostrich), condors, foxes, and owls, among many others.

After the tour, return to Puerto Natales to spend the evening at your leisure.

Day 9: Fly back to Santiago

Street art in Santiago's Barrio Bellavista
Street art in Santiago's Barrio Bellavista

Today, a driver will transport you from Torres del Paine National Park back to the airport in Punta Arenas. Hop on a domestic flight to Santiago. Upon arrival in the capital, the remainder of the day is yours to relax and explore at your leisure.

Perhaps visit some cultural sites you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. For dinner, be sure to get 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 10: Fly to Easter Island

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

After breakfast, 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 to catch a 3-hour flight to the island. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, 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 in height. Many of them stand 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 percent 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 introduction 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 11: Easter Island - Rapa Nui full-day tour

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

After breakfast, 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. Start at Ahu Te Pito Kura, a unique rock structure featuring a central stone that, according to a legend, 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. Seek out many moai along the base. Next, enjoy a delicious snack at Ahu Tongariki, which is considered the biggest ceremonial platform on the island. Here, there are 15 moai displayed in a row. After touring the site, visit another ceremonial platform called Ahu Akahang and finish off the day at the beautiful, white-sand beach of Anakena.

Day 12: Easter Island - Visit Orongo and Ahu Akivi 

Rano Kau Volcano
Rano Kau Volcano

Today is another exciting day of exploring Easter Island. The itinerary includes two, half-day tours to Orongo and Ahu Akivi.

After breakfast, 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 (seabirds) laid their first eggs of the season. Whoever returned with the first egg became chief for a year, also dubbed the Birdman. Orongo 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,  view petroglyphs fashioned 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 1 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, 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.

Following the tours, the evening is at your leisure.

Day 13: Departure from Santiago

Farewell, Chile!
Farewell, Chile!

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. Then, hop a flight back to Santiago, and catch your connecting flight home.

Map

Map of Chile Grand Tour: Santiago, Atacama Desert, Torres del Paine, & Easter Island - 13 Days
Map of Chile Grand Tour: Santiago, Atacama Desert, Torres del Paine, & Easter Island - 13 Days