This week-long itinerary allows you to experience the major cities and wine regions of central Chile as well as the arid desert landscapes in the country's north. First, you'll arrive in Santiago and take a city tour before discovering the nearby wilderness and wine country. Then it's a trip to the coastal seaport and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valparaiso. Afterward, you'll jet off to the Atacama Desert in the north, where you'll visit the indigenous villages, geysers, painted mountains, salt flats, and lunar landscapes for which the region is deservedly famous.

Highlights

  • Take a city tour of Santiago and sample some local wine in the nearby Casablanca Valley
  • Stroll the colorful streets of coastal Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Visit Cajon del Maipo, a stunning mountain region near Santiago
  • Discover San Pedro de Atacama, an ancient town on Chilean's northern Altiplano
  • Visit geysers, lagoons, salt flats, and lunar landscapes on full-day tours of the Atacama Desert

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago & City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour Santiago
Day 3 Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour Santiago
Day 4 Fly from Santiago to Calama & Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama 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 Calama & Transfer to Santiago - Depart Chile  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago & City Tour

Enjoy a stroll through Chile's municipal markets
Enjoy a stroll through Chile's municipal markets

Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. But rather than idle indoors, we want you to get out and experience the pulse of this Latin American metropolis. And like any great city, that pulse is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. To that end, you'll immediately head back out on an easy and delicious half-day tour of the city. By the end of it, you'll be an honorary Santiaguino. 

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, 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 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. 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.

  • Ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. You'll hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits 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.

  • Enjoy dinner in the fashionably bohemian enclave of Barrio Bellavista. This is the trendiest neighborhood in the city, and here you'll find a diverse array of funky cafés, international eateries, and high-end restaurants.

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

Day 2: Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour

Colorful Valparaiso
Colorful Valparaiso

After breakfast, you will depart from your hotel bound for the historic Chilean coastal city of Valparaiso. This is a special treat because Valparaiso is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's also the most romantic and artistic city in the country. 

But that's not all. En route you will stop at an organic winery in the Casablanca Valley for a guided tour and tasting. The owners of the Emiliana Winery pride themselves on their all-natural approach to growing grapes, which utilizes the combined efforts of plants and livestock to help fertilize the crops. You'll tour the vineyard and the production facilities and then taste four different wines paired with local cheeses and chocolates. 

Shortly after the tour, you'll arrive in Valparaiso. This colorful, well-preserved seaport is 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. The tour of Valparaiso begins at the port, where you'll travel by trolley between Plaza Sotomayor and Plaza Aníbal Pinto. Then it's time to hop in the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top, where you'll be greeted with panoramic views of the city.

You'll then wander the high streets through hilly neighborhoods like Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. This is the best way to get to know Valparaiso, as there's nothing quite like strolling among the brightly painted houses, old churches, and cobbled squares that comprise this city. And no matter where you happen to be, you can always find sweeping views of the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss.   

After the tour, you can enjoy an optional lunch in a local restaurant (try the seafood; it's some of the best in South America). Then it's time to hop back in the minivan, transfer back to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Tour Duration: Full day

Day 3: Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour

The Embalse de Yeso, in the Maipo Valley
The Embalse de Yeso, in the Maipo Valley

Today you'll experience even more of Chile's famous natural beauty with a visit to Cajón del Maipu. After breakfast, you'll embark on a 45-minute road trip southeast of Santiago to this popular gorge. You'll first arrive in the fertile San José de Maipo region, with its hills and vineyards. Then it's an ascent into the mountains and the landscapes become even more dramatic as massifs and snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline. That's to say nothing of the sparkling rivers and streams that wind through this paradise.

After reaching 3,000 meters above sea level (9,843 feet), you'll exit the vehicle at the shores of the Embalse de Yeso, a reservoir nestled in the Andes whose glassy surface shines bright turquoise. There will be ample time to marvel at this landscape and snap photos of the panoramic vistas. You'll also 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, pull up a seat near the water and enjoy a picnic accompanied by a selection of top Chilean wine. Afterward, you'll return to San José de Maipo and stop in at a local restaurant to try a traditional Chilean empanada. Finally, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Santiago.

Day 4: Fly from Santiago to Calama & Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama

Valley of the Moon, Chile
Valley of the Moon, Chile

After breakfast, you'll transfer by private car to the airport, where you’ll catch a flight to the city of Calama, in northern Chile. 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, whose flaming red mountains form the base of the Valley of the Moon.

Upon arrival at San Pedro de Atacama, you will check into your hotel and have the remainder of the day to enjoy the town however you see fit. The good news is that even if you're tired there's no need to worry—San Pedro is so small you can walk around the entire town in about 15 minutes.

Some recommended activities in San Pedro de Atacama include:

  • Visit the Church of San Pedro de Atacama. This little white-washed chapel in the center of town boasts a lot of history. Dating back to 1540, it's the town's oldest building (and the nation's second-oldest church). Inside you'll find a three-tiered baroque altar, which is the only one of its kind in Chile. 

  • Tour the town. San Pedro is notable for its abundance of adobe homes and businesses. It's unique in Chile in that there is quite a bit of pre-Spanish indigenous influence. Just strolling the dusty streets you get a sense of the pre-Hispanic Atacameño culture that once thrived here. Today you'll find many souvenir shops selling basketworks, ceramic pottery, and artisan crafts.

  • Dine out in San Pedro. There isn't much to do in the town of San Pedro except plan your excursions and eat out. Luckily the town has plenty of restaurants to cater to every taste, from funky cafés and vegetarian diners to Chilean steakhouses, Italian pizzerias, Mediterranean restaurants, and pan-Asian-inspired eateries.

Day 5: Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour - Lagoons and Salt Flats

Laguna Chaxa
Laguna Chaxa

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 time 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 Calama & Transfer to Santiago - Depart Chile

Goodbye, Atacama!
Goodbye, Atacama!

Savor the experience, because this is your final day on the Atacama Altiplano and your last in Chile. Depending on the flight departure schedule, you'll have some extra time to explore San Pedro. If you haven't done so already, pay a visit to the noteworthy sights, such as the Museo Arquólogico (Archeological Museum), and La Casa Incaica, which dates to the early 1500s and is the oldest structure in San Pedro. Both are located off the central plaza.

If you're feeling more active, perhaps indulge in some sandboarding or trekking on the surrounding dunes. Also, just four km outside of town is the Pukará de Quitor, ruins of a stone fortress that dates from the 12th century. 

At the scheduled time, your driver will pick you up at the hotel and take you to the Calama Airport for the return flight to Santiago, at which point you'll meet your connecting flight home.