On this active and comprehensive 12-day itinerary, you will discover one of the lesser-visited gems of South America: Chile's Lake District, where central Chile meets Patagonia. Begin your journey in the cosmopolitan city of Santiago. Next, head to the southern city of Puerto Montt, where you'll visit the mythical island of Chiloé. The remainder of your trip has it all: penguin colonies, kayaking fjords, trekking through native Alajuela forest, hiking up to glaciers, and much, much more.

Highlights

  • Visit Chiloé Island, one of the most beautiful and mythic places in Chile
  • Brave raging rapids on a Petrohué rafting excursion
  • Trek and kayak your way through Chile's beautiful southern wilderness

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt & Transfer to Castro (Chiloé Island) Castro
Day 3 Chiloé National Park Full-Day Tour Castro
Day 4 Ancud Full-Day Tour & Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 5 Rafting on the Petrohué River Puerto Varas
Day 6 Kayaking on the Reloncaví Fjord Puerto Varas
Day 7 Trekking Alerce Andino National Park Puerto Varas
Day 8 Drive from Puerto Varas to Pucón Pucón
Day 9 Full-Day El Cañi Trekking & Hot Springs Pucón
Day 10 Full-Day Pichillancahue Glacier Tour & Waterfall Pucón
Day 11 Full-Day Huerquehue Hiking & Kayak Pucón
Day 12 Pucón to Temuco - Farewell Chile  

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: Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt & Transfer to Castro (Chiloé Island)

Castro, Chilóe
Castro, Chilóe

Today you will fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt, located in the Lake District. This windy port city is the jumping off point for epic journeys into southern Chile along the Carretera Austral and even deeper into Patagonia. For your purposes, it will serve as the gateway for excursions to some of the most beautiful towns and villages in the nation.

Upon arrival to Puerto Montt, you will transfer directly to Chilóe Island. Both geographically and culturally, this is one of the most distinctive areas of the country. Chiloé is an archipelago comprised of many little islands and one main one, Isla Grande. However, despite Isla Grande's relatively close proximity to Puerto Montt, arriving here is a bit of an adventure in its own right.

Your journey involves a road trip and a ferry crossing just to arrive at Isla Grande. Then it's another hour or so drive to reach the southern shore and the small capital city of Castro, where you'll overnight. The scenery during each leg of this journey is spectacular, and once on the island you'll see how Chiloé became such a desirable locale. 

Isla Grande is all rolling green hills, dense forests, and patchwork fields. The coast is never far off no matter your location, and it's in the coastal coves and bays where Chiloé's mythic legends were born. Supposedly the island is inhabited by witches who fly from the caves after dark and can be seen as lights zipping across the night sky.

Arriving in the fishing city of Castro is a bit like stepping back in time. You'll be enamored with the colorful houses and old German colonial churches found here. If you aren't too tired, head out and do some sightseeing. Visit the Plaza de Armas (central plaza) before taking a stroll along the waterfront, which runs along a fjord. For dinner, definitely get out and sample the local cuisine, like curanto. This rich seafood stew has been around as long as the island has been settled, maybe even longer (perhaps dating back to the indigenous). Typically the dish is prepared by burying shellfish, meat, and potatoes in the ground and cooking it over hot rocks.

Day 3: Chiloé National Park Full-Day Tour

Punta Pirulil, Chiloé National Park
Punta Pirulil, Chiloé National Park

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and you'll embark on your full-day tour into Chiloé National Park, one of the natural highlights of the island. This 430 square-km (166 square-mile) protected area encompasses a large portion of the western side of Chiloé. The region is notable for its vast Valdivian forest comprised of southern beech and alerce trees.

Your journey will take you south from Castro and across the island to Playa Rahue, where you'll embark on a short hike to the famous Punta Pirulil. This lookout point offers sweeping vistas of the green Chiloé coastline and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Also here is the symbolic Muelle del Alma ("dock of the soul"), a wooden boardwalk that rises over the grassland and looks out over the western edge of the island. You'll take a rest nearby as your guide recounts some of the local history and lore. 

Afterward, you'll head back to the car and transfer to Quilque, an indigenous community where you'll stop in at a local house for a traditional lunch. Later in the afternoon, you'll make one last stop in Chiloé National Park for an easy hike into a forest at El Tepual Trail, which will take you along more boardwalks surrounded by stunning temperate rainforest.

Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Castro and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 4: Ancud Full-Day Tour & Transfer to Puerto Varas

The penguins of Chiloé
The penguins of Chiloé

Today you'll be leaving Chilóe for Puerto Varas, a quiet Lake District town located on the shore of Lago Llanquihue. Before that, though, you'll transfer to the northernmost point of the island where you'll enjoy a full-day tour of the surroundings. This tour starts in Ancud, the second largest city in Chiloé after Castro. 

Even though this is a mostly modern seaside city (many older buildings were destroyed after a major earthquake in 1960), there are nonetheless some impressive historical sites here. One of which you'll visit is the Fuerte San Antonio. This fort, constructed in 1770, played an important role in the wars for independence, as Chiloé was one of colonial Spain's last strongholds in Chile. 

You'll also visit the municipal market, Ancud's Regional Museum (which features displays celebrating the history and patrimony of the island), the Plaza de Armas (main square), and a bird sanctuary at Caulín Bay that in summertime is home to thousands of unique birds, including black-necked swans and pink flamingos.
 
Afterward, you'll head to the nearby beach of Puñihuil and hop a boat bound for some nearby islets. This area is noteworthy in ornathological circles, as its the only place where both Magellanic and Humboldt penguins cohabitate. You'll be able to view both species from the boat and take plenty of photos.

Afterward, you'll transfer off the island for the drive to your hotel in Puerto Varas.

Day 5: Rafting on the Petrohué River

Braving the Río Petrohué
Braving the Río Petrohué

At the scheduled time a guide will meet you at your hotel in Puerto Varas, whereupon you'll hop in a van and take a scenic 40-minute drive along Lago Llanquihue to the town of Ensenada, located on the eastern shore. This will be the base for your half-day rafting excursion on the Petrohué River.

After a mandatory safety talk, you'll drive five more minutes to the river's put-in. At this point, you'll be in Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, Chile's first-ever national park, which was founded in 1926. The river flows out from Lago Todos los Santos and makes its way south to the Reloncavi Estuary. This jaw-droppingly beautiful fjord is surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes such as Osorno, Calbuco, and Puntiagudo.

The rafting team will put in on a calm section of water, which will allow everyone some time to practice rowing. You'll then embark down the river, really getting into the action at the first set of rapids, which is called Ciao Seco ("goodbye dry land"). From here you'll experience 13 kilometers of fun-filled class III and IV rapids. Breaking up the action will be the occasional stop for a bit of riverbank cliff diving into the crystalline water.

After two hours of wild rafting adventure, you'll disembark the raft and hit the changing rooms before heading back to the base. Here you can enjoy a local craft beer and some snacks before driving back to Puerto Varas, which you should reach about 5:30 pm.

Day 6: Kayaking on the Reloncaví Fjord

Kayaking on the Reloncaví Estuary
Kayaking on the Reloncaví Estuary

You'll depart your hotel in Puerto Varas at 8:30 am and drive 40 minutes east along the shore of Lago Llanquihue to the town of Ensenada. This will be the base for today's kayak excursion. Here you'll pick up your gear and choose between a single or tandem expedition. After driving another 30 minutes you'll arrive at the town of Ralún and the mouth of Patagonia's northernmost fjord: Reloncaví.

You'll put in on the shores of this estuary and begin the journey south. Soon enough it will be time for lunch, and there's a perfect spot for it on a peninsula with a small cove lined with green meadows. Here Señora Yolanda will welcome you to her family farm and everyone will share a mate (an herbal tea beverage) around a wood stove. After enjoying a traditional lunch and some freshly brewed coffee, you'll take a short tour around the woods. Then it's time to get back on the water.

The schedule for the rest of the trip involves little more than enjoying the scenery as you glide along the surface of the fjord. Surrounding you will be wide panoramas featuring the snowcapped Yate and Hornopirén volcanoes. Flying over you will be an array of birds, like pelicans and cormorants, and frolicking in the water beside you will be sea lions, dolphins, and the occasional penguin. 

The kayak excursion comes to an end at Cochamó, a village that sits on the coast between the Andes and the Pacific. You'll leave the water behind, change your clothes, drop off your gear, and hop in a waiting van that will transport you back to Puerto Varas. You should arrive in town at around 7 pm.

Day 7: Trekking Alerce Andino National Park

Trekking through Alerce Andino National Park
Trekking through Alerce Andino National Park

Today you've got an early start and a full day of trekking ahead of you. After breakfast, you'll depart from Puerto Varas for the 30-minute journey to Puerto Montt. Then it's another 30 minutes south to the coastal town of Lenca and the gateway to Alerce Andino National Park.

The trek follows a route that runs along the edge of the Chaicas River. The scenery in this part of Chile's Lake District is nothing short of spectacular. You'll pass through great swaths of temperate forests abounding with mañio, tepa, arrayán, and alerce trees. You'll stop at Lagos Chaiquenes and Triangulo, two glassy mountain lagoons that happen to be great spots for birdwatching. 

At the end of the trek you'll return to Puerto Varas by van.

Day 8: Drive from Puerto Varas to Pucón

Lago Villarrica
Lago Villarrica

Today you'll be transferring from one stunning locale to another. It's a journey that will take you from Puerto Varas to the northern end of Chile's Lake District and the town of Pucón. This village is deservedly famous as it sits on the shore of Lago Villarrica in the shadow of the towering Volcán Villarrica.

The day begins with a private transfer four hours to Pucón. At that point, the famous volcano will come into view, and you'll see why Pucón is such a tourist draw. More than the beautiful views, however, Pucón is a popular destination for those looking for seasonal activities, such as hiking and skiing. Zip-lining is a fun activity as well, and there are a number of nearby excursions you can make from town, such as to the geothermic pools.

But that's for another day. For now, you're probably tired after the long drive. If you would like to get out and stretch your legs, then here a couple options for easy activities in and around Pucón.

  • Stroll the city center and waterfront. Pucon's main drag, Av. Bernardo O'Higgins, is the epicenter of activity in town. Here you'll find any number of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Also, you can walk down the road to where it terminates at the lakeshore.

  • Go on a boat tour around the lake. Many tour operators offer boat excursions around Lake Villarrica. This is a fun and relaxing way to experience the natural beauty of the area. Depending on the climate you'll also be able to take a dip in the water.

  • Dine out. Because Pucón is such a hotbed of tourism, many quality international restaurants have opened up to cater to the crowds. In this town, you'll find everything from sushi to Italian to Arabian to Uruguayan and Argentine steakhouses.

Day 9: Full-Day El Cañi Trekking & Hot Springs

Santuario El Cañi
Santuario El Cañi

Today you'll venture a mere 20 km (13 miles) out of town on a private full-day tour and enjoy some vigorous outdoor exercise in the form of mountain trekking. Your destination is the Santuario El Cañi. This 1,500-acre private reserve makes for one of the best hikes in the entire region.

There's incredible diversity of nature on this hike, which you'll notice immediately once you embark. Over six to eight hours you'll ascend in altitude as you traverse the Andes, passing by lagoons and observing the unique flora. This region is the natural home of the Araucaria, or "monkey puzzle" tree, a type of evergreen conifer that can live an impressive 2,000 years. Lenga and coihue trees are also common here.  

Along the way, your guide will also point out the various wildlife species that call the area home, such as foxes, pudus, and even pumas and condors. Eventually, at 1,550 meters (5,085 feet) above sea level you'll reach a mirador (lookout) that affords 360° panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes and lakes. Short of hiking up Volcán Villarrica, you won't find better views anywhere nearby.

Immediately after the hike, you'll be able to soak your beleagured muscles in the geothermal pools at Termas Pucón Indomito, which is located near El Cañi. So relax, and let the soothing 100° waters in this natural spa ease the day's exertions. When finished, you'll transfer back to Pucón and can spend the evening further relaxing and unwinding after your hard day's trek.

Day 10: Full-Day Pichillancahue Glacier Tour & Waterfall

The Pichillancahue Glacier
The Pichillancahue Glacier

Today you'll enjoy another trekking adventure, this time to the Pichillancahue Glacier, which is located at the foot of Villarrica Volcano. A driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to Palguin, a region in the interior of Chile's Lake District. Here you'll embark on an easy and well-marked trail through native Araucaria forest.

As you ascend in altitude you'll stop at viewpoints that offer 360° views of the surrounding volcanoes. Eventually, you'll reach the Pichillancahue Glacier, which is unique in that it has been colored black by all the volcanic ash that has fallen on it over the years. The trek culminates with a visit to a towering 30 meter (100 foot) waterfall tucked away in the native forest. Afterward, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Pucón.

Day 11: Full-Day Huerquehue Hiking & Kayak

Kayaking in Huerquehue National Park
Kayaking in Huerquehue National Park

It's an early start today as a driver will pick you up after breakfast and transfer you 35 km (21 miles) from Pucón to Huerquehue National Park. This protected area encompasses over 30,000 acres of virgin forest abounding with Araucaria, lenga, coihue, and other trees native to the Lake District and Patagonia.

The adventure begins with a kayak trip from one side of Tinquilco Lake to the other. After disembarking on shore, you'll start an hour-long trek into the woods, experiencing first hand the region's exotic flora and fauna. As you head deeper into the wilderness you'll pass by a number of lakes and waterfalls. There should be ample opportunity for wildlife spotting, too, in the form of condors and pudús. With luck you may even catch a glimpse of a puma. 

Afterward, you'll cross the lake again back to the starting point, whereupon you'll transfer back to Pucón.

Day 12: Pucón to Temuco - Farewell Chile

Sunset over Santiago's skyline
Sunset over Santiago's skyline

Your great Patagonian adventure has now come to end. In the morning, savor one last leisurely breakfast in Chile before a driver meets you and transfers you 1.5 hours to the airport in the city of Temuco. Here you'll catch a flight to Santiago and make your connecting flight home.