Chile may be a small country geographically, but it's filled with some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in South America, and indeed the world. Over a quick nine days, you'll discover the furthest reaches of this ecological paradise, from the otherworldly landscapes of the northern Atacama Desert to the native lenga forests and active volcanoes of the rugged Lake District, which is also known as the "doorstep to Patagonia." And to kick it all off you'll discover Santiago and Valparaiso, two of Chile's most beautiful cities.

Highlights

  • Take a culinary tour of Santiago and get to know the city one bite at a time
  • Go wine tasting in the famous Casablanca Valley
  • Explore widely around Chile's famous northern Atacama Desert, and even do some stargazing
  • Discover the snow-capped volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, and charming villages of Chile's Lake District

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 A Bite of Santiago Santiago
Day 3 Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley Santiago
Day 4 Flight to Calama - Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour - Lagoons and Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 7 San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Montt & Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 8 Puerto Varas: Osorno Volcano, Petrohue Falls and Todos los Santos Lake Puerto Varas
Day 9 Puerto Varas to Santiago - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city
Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city

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, the most magnificent viewpoint in Santiago. When visiting any new city it's a good idea to get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 850 meters (2,788 feet) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. Enjoy the reconnoitering, and if you aren't the hiking type not to worry: you can catch a scenic gondola to the top.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Brightly painted old houses adorned with graffiti art sit alongside modern shopping complexes featuring an eclectic array of eateries and bars. It's a great place to come for dinner out, a glass or two of Chilean red, and people watching from a patio table. 

  • Visit 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. Also here is the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and 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 just a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas, and like the plaza, it's filled with history. 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. Today the country is under democratic rule, and visitors are welcome to visit the palace. 

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: A Bite of Santiago

Savor some tasty Chilean empanadas on a food tour
Savor some tasty Chilean empanadas on a food tour

Today you'll get out and explore on a half-day food tour of Santiago. It's an immersive experience that reveals the true beating heart of the city, which is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. It's so informative, in fact, that by the end of it, you'll be an honorary Santiaguino. 

Highlights of the tour include:

  • Wandering the aisles of Santiago's labyrinthine central market. This is the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and local residents eager to get their hands on the freshest of the day's produce. With the assistance of an English-speaking guide, you'll engage with these vendors and shoppers, learning about their daily routine while getting the inside track on the most delicious tidbits to try.

  • A tasting of traditional Chilen dishes. It's not enough to experience the kinetic energy of the marketplace—you'll want to do like a local and indulge your taste buds as well. You'll also get a glimpse into how some of Chile's most famous dishes are prepared.

  • Ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. After the market its time to hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits about 300 meters (984 feet) above the city.  Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.

  • Take a lunch break in the fashionably bohemian enclave in Barrio Bellavista. It's time for even more food, this time in the trendiest neighborhood in the city: Bellavista. Here you'll find a diverse array of funky cafés, international eateries, and high-end restaurants.

After the tour, you will return to your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing. 

Tour Duration:
Half-day (with English-speaking guide)

Day 3: Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley

The hills of Valparaiso
The hills of Valparaiso

After breakfast, you'll depart from your hotel in Santiago and drive about an hour west towards the coast. Your destination is the Casablanca Valley, which is home to many top wineries. Here you'll take a tour, tasting, and enjoy lunch at the wonderful Casa del Bosque Winery.

After lunch, you'll continue the short distance to the coast and the cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. First up is the port city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its colorful hillside neighborhoods, winding stairways, and abundance of street art. It's a throwback to a time when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and funicular elevators carried people high into the hills. On a city tour, you'll visit some famous sites, such as Plaza de la Victoria and the Naval Academy, and ride a funicular high into the hills where panoramic vistas of the bay await. A real highlight is visiting the former home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. 

Afterward, you'll drive a short way to the adjacent town of Viña del Mar, which couldn't be more different in terms of style than its neighbor. Whereas Valparaiso is a retro artistic haven, Viña is a modern seaside hotspot abounding with sleek shopping centers and upscale restaurants. After touring around the city and waterfront, you'll return to Santiago in time for dinner.

Day 4: Flight to Calama - Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour

The Valley of the Moon
The Valley of the Moon

This morning, transfer from your hotel to the airport for your flight to the city of Calama, located in the far north of the country. Upon arrival, another driver will meet you for the hour-and-20-minute drive to the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the embarkation point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.

During the journey between these two places, you will see some of the most evocative and ancient landscapes anywhere in the world. This high-altitude desert abounds with seemingly endless salt flats, painted hills that change color depending on the light, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, where flaming red mountains create the base of Moon Valley.

Upon arrival at San Pedro, you will check into your hotel and relax for the remainder of the afternoon until it's time for your first excursion. At the scheduled time, a driver will meet you and you'll transfer 15 minutes outside of town into the desert. This is where you'll enjoy the evening's stargazing outing. 

First, you will sit for a 20-minute presentation where you'll learn some basic astronomy concepts. You'll then head outside to the open Altiplano and learn how to identify various constellations. This desert plateau is an ideal spot for stargazing due to its high altitude (about 2,308 meters/7,900 feet). Even seen from the naked eye, the stars here are more vivid than anything you've likely experienced before. Finally, the outing culminates by viewing the sky through high-powered telescopes and binoculars. You'll be able to spot a wide array of celestial objects, including planets, binary stars, spherical clusters, and others. Even better, you'll do your stargazing accompanied by a glass of good Chilean wine.

At the end of this astronomical outing, you'll return to San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 5: Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour - Lagoons and 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 6: 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 7: San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Montt & Transfer to Puerto Varas

The lakeside town of Puerto Varas
The lakeside town of Puerto Varas

This morning, transfer from your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama to Calama for your flight to Puerto Montt via Santiago. Arrive at Puerto Montt and meet your English-speaking guide, who will take you in a private vehicle 30 minutes north to Puerto Varas, located on the shores of Llanquihue Lake. After dropping your luggage at the hotel and having lunch, join your guide for a tour of this charming lakeside village. Puerto Varas is an interesting mix of cultures in that there is a rich German heritage as well as an influence of the Mapuche indigenous people.

In the afternoon, you'll take a short drive east to the famous Petrohue Waterfalls, where you'll have a great view of the Osorno Volcano. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Puerto Varas.

Day 8: Puerto Varas: Osorno Volcano, Petrohue Falls and Todos los Santos Lake

Hiking up to Osorno Volcano
Hiking up to Osorno Volcano

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.

In the evening, head back to your hotel in Puerto Varas. 

Day 9: Puerto Varas to Santiago - Departure

Farewell, Lake District!
Farewell, Lake District!

This morning, your guide will pick you up from Puerto Varas and take you to El Tepual Airport (Puerto Montt) for your flight to Santiago. Upon arrival in Santiago, you'll transfer to the international terminal for your return flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Chile's Deserts, Lakes & Culture - 9 Days
Map of Chile's Deserts, Lakes & Culture - 9 Days