- Take a city tour of Santiago and sample some local wine in the nearby Casablanca Valley
- Stroll the colorful streets of coastal Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Visit Cajon del Maipo, a mountain region near Santiago
- Discover San Pedro de Atacama, an ancient town in Chilean's northern Altiplano
- Visit geysers, lagoons, salt flats, and lunar landscapes on full-day tours of the Atacama Desert
|Arrive in Santiago, Guided City Tour
|Transfer to Valparaíso, Wine & City Tour
|Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour
|Fly to Calama & Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama
|San Pedro de Atacama
|Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour, Lagoons & Salt Flats
|San Pedro de Atacama
|Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village
|San Pedro de Atacama
|Return to Santiago, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Santiago, Guided City Tour
Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will transfer you to the hotel, where you can settle in before heading out to explore. Start with a 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 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 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 984 feet (300 m) above the city. Enjoy the 360 degrees 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: Transfer to Valparaíso, Wine & City Tour
After breakfast, you'll depart from your hotel bound for the historic Chilean coastal city of Valparaíso. This is a special treat because Valparaíso isn't only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also the most romantic and artistic city in the country.
But that's not all. En route, you'll 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 taste four different wines paired with local cheeses and chocolates.
Shortly after the tour, you'll arrive in Valparaíso. This colorful, well-preserved seaport is a throwback to the turn of the 20th century when electric trolleys coasted along the waterfront, and lurching funicular elevators carried passengers to the highest points in the city. The tour of Valparaíso 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 Valparaíso, as there's nothing quite like strolling among the brightly painted houses, old churches, and cobbled squares that comprise this city. 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.
Day 3: Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour
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 snowcapped peaks dominate the skyline.
After reaching 9,843 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, 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, sit near the water and enjoy a picnic with a selection of top Chilean wine. Afterward, you'll return to San José de Maipo and stop at a local restaurant to try a traditional Chilean empanada. Finally, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Santiago.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Fly to Calama & Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama
After breakfast, you'll transfer by private car to the airport, where you'll catch a flight to 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 starting point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.
During the journey between these two places, you'll 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'll 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 whitewashed chapel in the town center has 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, 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's 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 basketwork, ceramic pottery, and artisan crafts.
- Dine out in San Pedro. There's not 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 & Salt Flats
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 31 miles (50 km) 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 can spot the Chilean flamingoes that call this reserve home.
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 toward the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, located at a whopping 13,779 feet (4,200 m) in elevation. You might feel a bit lightheaded, so try not to exert yourself and 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 whitewashed church with its famous three-storied bell tower. 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
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 30 feet (10 m).
At an altitude of 14,173 feet (4,320 m), 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 relax 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 and the flamingoes that reside in nearby marshlands.
You'll then return to San Pedro for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day exploring the town.
Day 7: Return to Santiago, Depart
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 2.4 miles (4 km) outside of town is the Pukará de Quitor, ruins of a stone fortress from the 12th century. At the scheduled time, your driver will pick you up at the hotel and take you to Calama Airport for the return flight to Santiago, at which point you'll meet your connecting flight home.
More Great Chile Itineraries