In this nature-focused adventure, you get the best of both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. First, travel to far south to Punta Arenas for a visit to an island inhabited by penguins. Next, spend a day exploring Torres del Paine - one of the world's most beautiful national parks. Top your Patagonian experience off with a glacier walk over the most impressive mass of ice in the region, Perito Moreno. Then, journey north for a visit to Iguazú Falls, the largest network of waterfalls in the world. These falls are located on the border of Argentina and Brazil, so you'll get to experience the majesty of the falls from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides. Finally, it's off to Buenos Aires where you'll enjoy some city time in the "Paris of South America" before your journey home.

Highlights

  • Walk with Magellanic penguins on Isa Magdalena
  • Trek through Torres del Paine National Park, the new 8th Wonder in the World
  • Walk along the top of a massive glacier in El Calafate
  • Visit Iguazú Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world
  • Enjoy dinner and a tango show in Buenos Aires, the most romantic capital in South America

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 3 Isla Magdalena and Penguin Colony Punta Arenas
Day 4 Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales - Torres del Paine Full Day Puerto Natales
Day 5 Puerto Natales to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 6 El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike El Calafate
Day 7 El Calafate to Iguazú Falls Iguazu Falls
Day 8 Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side Iguazu Falls
Day 9 Iguazú Falls - Brazilian Side Iguazu Falls
Day 10 Iguazú to Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 11 Goodbye Buenos Aires!  

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: Fly from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas, Chile

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, you'll 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 hub, 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 streetlamps and a statue of Magellan sits in the center), the surrounding architecture is impressive as well. All around the plaza are a number of majestic 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. 

  • Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head seven km 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. Obviously, seafood is the order of the day here, so sample some local specialties, like chupe de centolla (souffle of king crab), as well as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.

Day 3: Isla Magdalena and Penguin Colony

Enjoy the views from the lighthouse
Enjoy the views from the lighthouse

This half-day tour begins bright and early in the morning. You'll transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan, at which point you'll board a vessel that will take you 30 km northeast to Isla Magdalena. On this island is Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, a protected area home to Chile's largest colony of penguins.

First, though, you will travel to Marta Island, located in the middle of the strait. It's home to a large colony of Patagonian sea lions whose numbers top a thousand. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. You'll also find a number of seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.

Now it's time to arrive at Isla Magdalena, where you'll disembark and spend one hour on shore. During this time you'll follow an 800-meter (2,624-foot) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, be sure to enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 in number. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan and made famous by Charles Darwin.

Afterward, it's time to return to the vessel and make the journey back, reaching Punta Arenas by midday.

Note: the order of the destinations you visit is subject to change on the day of the excursion.

Day 4: Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales - Torres del Paine Full Day

Torres del Paine, 8th Wonder in the World
Torres del Paine, 8th Wonder in the World

Early in the morning, you'll depart Puerto Natales for the Cuevas del Milodón (Mylodon Caves). The largest of this network of caves houses a replica of a mylodon, a giant herbivore that became extinct in the late Pleistocene era. Then, you'll visit Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most beautiful protected areas on the planet. Recently, it was chosen as the 8th Wonder in the World.

On an extensive full-day tour, you will visit some of the park's main attractions, such as the Amarga Lagoon. Nearby you'll find the iconic peaks of the Horns of Paine (part of the Cordillera Paine), the glacially fed Grey Lake, and the thundering waterfalls of Salto Grande. At noon you'll enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the park before continuing on the excursion. Finally, at the end of the day, you'll return to Puerto Natales.

Day 5: Puerto Natales to El Calafate

Perito Moreno Glacier, near El Calafate
Perito Moreno Glacier, near El Calafate

In the morning or afternoon, a driver will pick you up from the designated meeting point in Puerto Natales and transfer you about 3.5 hours to El Calafate. This town sits on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is home to Los Glaciers National Park. The most famous landmark in this protected area is Perito Moreno, a 250-square-kilometer ice formation that is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. 

Upon your arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the remainder of the day relaxing or venture out and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. You can also prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multimedia center has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice.

Day 6: El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike

Trekking Perito Moreno
Trekking Perito Moreno

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes out over the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino, ending abruptly in a great wall that curves around the lake. Wait a bit and you'll witness "calving," the awe-inspiring sight of ice breaking off the facade and crashing into the tranquil waters below. Every time ice hits the water a thundering crash reverberates in the ears. 

Believe it or not, you will be trekking on top of this glacier. It's a full-day excursion (age-range 10-65) that involves walking over the ice while fully equipped with crampons and an ice ax. And while traversing Perito Moreno is certainly an active adventure, it's perfectly safe as you'll be accompanied by certified bilingual guides. So enjoy crossing deep blue ice crevices and hiking over meltwater streams as you experience Perito Moreno up close. 

During the day you'll also have ample time to witness the glacier from one of the many viewing platforms in the park. These platforms are accessible via a network of boardwalks that run along the shores of the lake. They offer the best vantage points and sweeping views of the glacier, making for great photo opportunities.

Day 7: El Calafate to Iguazú Falls

Iguazú Falls, the largest system of falls in the world
Iguazú Falls, the largest system of falls in the world

This morning a driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the airport. You've got a lengthy journey ahead of you. A flight will take you from the rugged forests and icy peaks of southern Patagonia to the mango trees and rainforest jungles of northern Argentina's Misiones Province. Here you'll find the jewel in the crown: Iguazú Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world.

Upon arrival to the city of Purto Iguazú, you'll check into your hotel and then have the option for a half-day tour of the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls (as opposed to the Argentine side) beginning in the afternoon. This is a good introduction to the falls, as the Brazilian side offers what amounts to a couple of easily accessible viewpoints. That means you'll be able to enjoy the majesty of this natural wonder without the extensive walking that accompanies a visit to the Argentine side (don't worry, because you'll experience that tomorrow). 

So enjoy the falls as you acclimate to the warmer weather (temps here can top 90°F in the summer months). Also, be on the lookout for exotic animals that call the area home, such as monkeys and coatis. 

Note: special visas are required for certain countries. Please ask the specialist if it is necessary for your itinerary.

Day 8: Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side

Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side
Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the entrance of Iguazú National Park, on the Argentine side of the falls. This is where you will begin the day's adventure. It's a full-day excursion that involves traversing three circuit routes around the falls, each offering exceptional vantage points from which to view this magnificent natural wonder. 

Circuit routes include:

The upper circuit, which features 800 meters (2,624 feet) of catwalks. These wooden walkways are elevated from the jungle surface so as not to disrupt the natural pathways used by the indigenous fauna. This circuit affords views of the upper portion of Iguazú. That means you'll be treated to no shortage of panoramic vistas of the surrounding falls.

The lower circuit, which consists of 1,600 meters (5,250 feet). These are also elevated and offer views from directly below and around Iguazú falls. This circuit takes you near the base of falls and provides a unique experience where you'll be up close with the natural surroundings, feeling the magnitude of the falls from up close. 

Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Gorge) enjoys an intimidating reputation that will precede your arrival to the park. This is the star of the show and the biggest of the some 275 falls that makeup Iguazú. A small tourist train leaves from within the park at the Cataratas Station and travels 18 minutes to Garganta Station, where you'll find restrooms, a snack bar, and the start of the wooden pathway to the falls. Then a walk of about 1200 meters (3,937 feet) will take you over the river, culminating at a viewpoint. Just hearing the plunging falls reverberating in your ears is a one-of-a-kind experience. Actually peering 82 meters (269 feet) down into the cavernous abyss as the highest of Iguazu's falls thunders all around you is downright unforgettable. 

At the end of the tour, the driver will pick you up and transfer you back to the hotel. 

Upper circuit duration: One hour
Lower circuit duration: Two hours
Devil's Gorge duration: Two hours

Day 9: Iguazú Falls - Brazilian Side

Iguazú Falls
Iguazú Falls

The Brazilian side of Iguazú may lack the number of hiking routes found on the Argentine side, but it makes up for it with a wealth of amenities in the form of a visitors center and restaurants complete with terraces overlooking the falls. Upon arrival at the Visitors Center, you'll board a double-decker bus that embarks on a 30-minute ride into the park. It will eventually stop at the entrance to a path leading to the falls.

The first stop after you disembark the bus is a balcony that offers panoramic views of the Argentinean side of the falls (be sure to keep your camera at the ready). You'll then hike 950 meters (3,116 feet) along the Iguazú River until you reach the falls on the Brazilian side. The walkway passes over the river and next to the Salto Floriano (Floriano Falls). This magnificent wall of plunging water makes quite an impression, as do the vistas of the lower Iguazú River and the Devil’s Throat Canyon.

Day 10: Iguazú to Buenos Aires

Enjoy the romance and passion of a tango show
Enjoy the romance and passion of a tango show

At midday, you'll take a flight from Iguazú to Aeroparque, the central airport in Buenos Aires. Unlike the lengthy drive from Ezeiza International into the city, this drive (in a private car) will be short and sweet. Spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and conserving energy because you've got a big night ahead of you. 

In the evening, it's time for "dinner and a show" of the highest order. You'll savor the hallmark dishes of Argentina while enjoying a spectacular tango show in Buenos Aires. As the deft performers move to the music of love, sorrow, and passion, you'll dine on flaky empanadas, succulent steak, and decadent dulce de leche (vegetarian options available).

But the night doesn't end with the meal. After dinner, more professional dancers will take part in a performance of traditional Argentine folkloric music.

Day 11: Goodbye Buenos Aires!

Goodbye Buenos Aires
Goodbye Buenos Aires

Enjoy your last hours in the cosmopolitan capital of Buenos Aires. At the scheduled time, your driver will pick you up and transfer you by private car to Ezeiza International Airport, where you'll catch your return flight home.