This 12-day Chilean vacation starts in Santiago for some sightseeing, followed by a day trip to the coastal towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Then, head out to explore the rivers, gorges, and peaks of Maipo Valley. Next, fly to Punta Arenas to begin your Patagonian adventure. Visit penguins on Magdalena Island, take a tour of a working estancia, and spend four, incredible days hiking Torres del Paine's W Trek highlights—Mirador Base Torres, Lake Nordenskjöld, the French Valley, and Glacier Grey.

Highlights

  • Explore Santiago and visit the coastal towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso
  • Discover the peaks and gorges along the stunning Maipo Valley region
  • Visit thousands of Magellanic penguins nesting on Magdalena Island
  • Spend four days trekking through the incredible Torres del Paine National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago & City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Viña del Mar & Valparaíso Excursion Santiago
Day 3 Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour Santiago
Day 4 Fly to Punta Arenas & Self-Guided Tour Punta Arenas
Day 5 Visit Magellanic Penguins on Magdalena Island Punta Arenas
Day 6 Travel to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 7 Visit the Famous Towers - W Trek Day 1 Torres del Paine
Day 8 Hike Along Lake Nordenskjöld - W Trek Day 2 Torres del Paine
Day 9 Explore the French Valley - W Trek Day 3 Torres del Paine
Day 10 Admire Glacier Grey - W Trek Day 4 Puerto Natales
Day 11 Visit a Patagonian Estancia Puerto Natales
Day 12 Depart From Santiago  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago and city tour

Stroll through Chile's bustling markets
Stroll through Chile's bustling markets

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: Viña del Mar and Valparaíso excursion

The colorful streets of Valparaíso
The colorful streets of Valparaíso

Today, leave the capital on an excursion to central Chile's Pacific Coast. Visit two neighboring cities: Viña del Mar and Valparaíso

First, 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 reconstruction efforts following the numerous earthquakes the Chilean coast has endured over the years. However, there are still 20th-century landmarks, like the Germanic Wulff Castle and the Venetian-Gothic Vergara Palace, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. The city is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants on the shore. 

Next, visit the port city of Valparaíso, 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.

Start exploring Valparaíso by visiting the old plazas of Sotomayor and Aníbal Pinto. Then, ride the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top. From here, wander the hilly neighborhoods of Cerro AlegreCerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. On the last hill, find La Sebastiana, a museum that was once the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

No matter where you go, 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. Some liken Valparaíso to San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss

Following the exploration, head to the minivan to transfer back to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Day 3: Maipo Valley full-day tour

Maipo Valley
Maipo Valley

Today, experience 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. First, arrive in the fertile San José de Maipo region, with its hills and vineyards. Then, it's an ascent into the mountains, where the landscapes become even more dramatic as massifs and snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline. Take in the sparkling rivers and streams that wind through this paradise.

After reaching 9,843 feet above sea level, exit the vehicle at the shores of the Embalse de Yeso, a reservoir nestled in the Andes with a glassy surface that shines bright-turquoise. Enjoy the landscape and snap photos of the panoramic vistas. 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, take a seat near the water and enjoy a picnic, accompanied by a selection of top Chilean wines. Afterward, return to San José de Maipo and stop in at a local restaurant to try a traditional snack—the Chilean empanada.

Transfer back to your hotel in Santiago, and enjoy the evening on your own.

Day 4: Fly to Punta Arenas and self-guided tour

Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport to catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, transfer by private car to the 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 5: Visit Magellanic penguins on Magdalena Island

Visit the penguins of Magdalena Island
Visit the penguins of Magdalena Island

After an early breakfast, make your way to the shore where you will board a ferry to Magdalena Island. Spend 2 hours on the boat, crossing the Strait of Magellan, with opportunities to see many local species of birds and marine life.

Once you arrive on the island, witness thousands of penguins at their nesting sites. Each year, between 40,000 and 60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins choose this island as their nesting site. These numbers increase in January and February when the chicks hatch. Spend about an hour on the island, viewing the penguins at a close distance, before heading back to Punta Arenas.

Day 6: Travel to Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales

Catch a bus bound for Puerto Natales today. This trip will take about 3 hours, and along the way, take in your first glimpses of the Patagonian Pampa, as well as native wildlife.

Settle into your accommodation in Puerto Natales, and then head to the travel tour office for a briefing. Ask any last-minute questions and pick up all of your tickets and vouchers for the next few days' adventures.

This small port city is the main base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. It's far less touristic than many other Patagonian hubs, and thus, retains its small-town tranquility.

Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures, like strolling the waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north, spot the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro—the view is phenomenal at sunset.

After the stroll, check out one of the numerous restaurant options in town for dinner.

Day 7: Visit the famous Towers - W Trek Day 1

Mirador Base Torres
Mirador Base Torres

Today, begin your trekking experience. Early in the morning, depart on a bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. The trip to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga is approximately 2 hours. After registering with the park, start with a 1.5-hour ascent, complete with stunning views of the hanging glacier at Mount Almirante Nieto (8,750 feet) as well as the nearby lakes. Once you reach Refugio el Chileno, drop off your bags and take a quick break to refuel.

Next, hike for another hour past ancient lenga forests until you reach the moraine base. Brace the steeper, more challenging climb for 45 minutes, and once at the top, reward yourself with some of the park's best views from the Mirador Base Torres. Take in the towering peaks of Torre SurCentral TowerNorth Tower, Condor's Nest, and Glacier Torre, all set across the sweeping backdrop of the Patagonian Highlands.

Digest the views, and hike back down to Refugio Chileno to spend the evening.

Hiking Distance: 9.6 miles
Hike Duration: 6.5 hours

Day 8: Hike along Lake Nordenskjöld - W Trek Day 2

Lake Nordenskjöld
Lake Nordenskjöld

After breakfast, it's time for another adventurous hike. Today, experience Lake Nordenskjöld up close. After leaving Refugio Chileno, embark on a brisk, 4-5-hour hike to Refugio Cuernos, an outpost located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjöld, at the foot of the Paine Massif.  

Along the way, hike along the base of Monte Almirante Nieto and traverse a few Patagonian rivers by hopping across the rocks. Every step of the way includes incredible Patagonia landscapes, in the form of jagged mountain peaks and glaciers, with glimpses of wild animals that reside in the region. Eventually, the lake and the peaks of Cuernos del Paine will come into view, signaling your destination. Spend the night here, in Refugio Cuernos.

Hiking Distance: 7 miles
Hike Duration: 4.5 hours

Day 9: Explore the French Valley - W Trek Day 3

Lake Pehoé
Lake Pehoé

The destination of today's hike is Campamento Italiano, a campsite located 2.5 hours away from Refugio Cuernos. To arrive there involves trekking along the windy shores of Lago Nordenskjöld. Once you arrive at Campamento Italiano, leave your heavy gear and continue the trek towards the French Valley, a rocky section of flatland cradled at the base of granite peaks.

Hike another couple of hours through a forest before finally emerging into the valley, and all the incredible scenery will come into view. From a lookout point, enjoy spectacular views of lakes Nordenskjöld, Skottsberg, and Pehoé behind you, as well as the hanging French Glacier ahead. After leaving the lookout, return to gather your large pack, and continue another 2.5 hours to Refugio Paine Grande, on the shore of Lake Pehoé, for your overnight stay. 

Hiking Distance: 10.7 miles
Hiking Duration: 7 hours

Day 10: Admire Glacier Grey - W Trek Day 4

Glacier Grey
Glacier Grey

After a fortifying breakfast, embark on a hike through a small forest to Lago Grey, a lake fed by one of the star landmarks of Torres del Paine: Glacier Grey. At 104 square miles, this glacial mass comprises a sizeable portion of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. After about two hours of hiking, get your first glimpse of its jagged ice walls, at which point, continue hiking 2 more hours along the lakeshore until you arrive at Refugio Grey (fair warning, most days this section of the park is very windy) to spend the night.

Hiking Distance: 6.8 miles
Hike Duration: 4 hours

Day 11: Visit a Patagonian Estancia

Meet the sheep of a Patagonian estancia
Meet the sheep of a Patagonian estancia

This morning, board a vessel on the Ultima Esperanza Sound bound for the beautiful Estancia La Peninsula, a working Patagonian sheep ranch. This full-day tour is the perfect opportunity to experience a way of life that is little changed since the first immigrants settled this region around the turn of the 20th century.

The day begins with a 30-minute boat trip through the fjords before arriving at the ranch. Once here, enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a breakfast pastry. Then, choose between a variety of activities to fill the day, such as horseback riding, hiking, or embarking on a land tour in a 4x4.

Around lunchtime, enjoy one of the best traditional lamb barbecues in the area, followed by a demonstration of sheep shearing and wool classification. Meet some other friendly employees of the estancia—in the form of sheepdogs.

At the end of the day, return to Puerto Natales by boat, and then transfer to Punta Arenas.

Day 12: Depart from Santiago

Adios, Patagonia!
Adios, Patagonia!

Today, look back on all of the memories made on your Patagonian adventure. Depending on your flight time, first, take a bus from Puerto Natales back to Punta Arenas. Then, catch your flight back to Santiago, followed by your onward flight home. Safe Travels!

Map

Map of Chile: Santiago, Pacific Coast, Maipo Valley, & Patagonia W Trek - 12 Days
Map of Chile: Santiago, Pacific Coast, Maipo Valley, & Patagonia W Trek - 12 Days