Travelers flock to Chile from all over the world to visit three principal regions, and this 11-day itinerary has all of them covered. First, it's a trip to the north of the country and the Atacama Desert, where you'll do some stargazing and tour the otherworldly landscapes. Then it's a flight to the southern Lake District and its enormous lakes, wild rivers, and snow-capped volcanoes. Finally, you'll end up in the far south, in Patagonia, where you'll spend a day exploring the most famous national park in the country: Torres del Paine.

Highlights

  • Explore the arid and beautiful desert landscapes of the Atacama Altiplano
  • Visit Chile's famous Lake District, home to tranquil lakeside villages and unspoiled wilderness
  • Spend a day in Torres del Paine National Park and experience firsthand the glory of Patagonia

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to Calama - Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Flight from Calama to Puerto Montt & Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 6 Osorno Volcano & Petrohué Falls Puerto Varas
Day 7 Chiloé Day Trip Puerto Varas
Day 8 Puerto Varas - Puerto Montt - Punta Arenas - Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 9 Exploring the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers Puerto Natales
Day 10 Torres del Paine Day Tour Puerto Natales
Day 11 Puerto Natales to Santiago - Departure  

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: Santiago 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 3: Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche

Cejar Lagoon
Cejar Lagoon

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at the hotel and you'll transfer a little over an hour to the Salar de Atacama, the famous salt flats of San Pedro de Atacama. Here you'll find the Cejar Lagoon, notable for its electric turquoise water and shoreline turned bright white by crystallized salt. If you're lucky, you might spot some local avian wildlife, such as flamingos and coots. Believe it or not, this desert lagoon is perfect for an afternoon bath. That's because the salination content of the water adds buoyancy, which means, like in the Dead Sea, you'll easily float on the surface. 

After a swim in the Cejar Lagoon, you'll head south to visit the Ojos del Salar, two desert lagoons where you can take another dip. These are unique pools in their own right, as their geological formation resembles a crater complete with a high outer rim that makes a perfect diving spot. The ambiance here is great, too, as surrounding you are the Domeyko and Andes mountain ranges and myriad volcanoes.

Finally, we will travel to the Tebenquiche Lagoon, another lake where you might see more flamingos and even foxes. It's the perfect spot to watch the sunset as the glassy waters of the lagoon create a mirror effect. When the sun goes down, the surrounding painted hills flash bright red and the image of mountain peaks is reflected in the water. At the end of the tour, you'll return to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 4: 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 5: Flight from Calama 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 6: Osorno Volcano & Petrohué Falls

Petrohué Falls
Petrohué Falls

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.

After hiking back down, you'll continue toward the waterfalls of the Río Petrohué. Fed by the nearby Lago Todos Los Santos, the Petrohué is famous for its electric blue waters and cascading waterfalls that have carved a network of chutes into the surrounding basaltic lava rock. There are various pathways all around that offer different vantage points where you can observe these thundering falls in all their glory.

The tour finishes with a visit to the turquoise waters of Todos los Santos (All Saints Lake) before returning to Puerto Varas in time to enjoy dinner in town.

Day 7: Chiloé Day Trip

Palafitos de Gamboa in Castro, Chiloé
Palafitos de Gamboa in Castro, Chiloé

Today's excursion is to a less-visited gem in the Lake District: the island of Chiloé. Neighboring Puerto Montt to the southwest, this slender island possesses its own unique culture heavy on local myths (some say witches patrol the coastline at night). Also here you'll find incredible seafood as well as colorful villages and rolling green hills. 

In the morning you'll depart from Puerto Varas, and once on the island, the first stop is the port city of Dalcahue. You'll have ample time to stroll the waterfront and visit a few notable sites such as the craft market, museum, and church. The trip then continues to the southern end of the island and the beautiful city of Castro. You'll visit the neighborhood of Palafitos de Gamboa (famous for its waterfront houses on stilts), the central plaza, and a couple of Chiloe's famously colorful churches.

At the end of the day, you'll transfer back to Puerto Varas.

Day 8: Puerto Varas - Puerto Montt - Punta Arenas - Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales

This morning, your guide will pick you up from Puerto Varas and take you to El Tepual Airport in Puerto Montt. Next, hop on a short flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, receive a transfer to Puerto Natales.

Upon arrival at Puerto Natales you'll check into your accommodation and then have the rest of the day to relax and explore. This small port city is the main base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. It's far less touristic than many other Patagonian hubs and thus retains its air of small-town tranquility. Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north from here you'll see the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and the view is phenomenal at sunset.

Day 9: Exploring the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers

Balmaceda Glacier
Balmaceda Glacier

Early this morning, you'll head to the dock at Puerto Natales and hop on a boat bound for Mount Balmaceda, located in the southern end of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. The park is only accessible by foot or by boat, and this nine-hour day tour follows the Ultima Esperanza Sound from Puerto Natales to the mountain. 

On the boat ride, you'll be treated to vast, panoramic views of native forests comprised of Coihue, Canelo, and lenga trees. Along the coast, you'll likely spot sea lions as you head north towards the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. You’ll then disembark and have an opportunity to enjoy views of these glaciers from land. After a short hike, you’ll then reach the Hosteria Perales, where a typical Patagonian barbecue will be served. 

In the afternoon you'll return by boat to Puerto Natales.

Day 10: Torres del Paine Day Tour

Depart early from your hotel, at 7:45 am, for Torres del Paine National Park. This 700-square-mile parcel of Patagonian beauty is more than just a UNESCO World Heritage Site—it's also a prime trekking destination. Greeting you at the entrance to the park are panoramic views of the famous Paine Massif: three impressive granite peaks that jut into the sky like giant fingers.

You'll spend the day touring the park, and along the way, you'll pass along the turquoise waters of lakes Nordenskjold and Pehoé. Then it's off to see the cascades of Salto Grande (the most famous waterfalls in the park) and enjoy even more panoramic views of the Paine Massif. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Puerto Natales.

Day 11: Puerto Natales to Santiago - Departure

Farewell, Chile!
Farewell, Chile!

Today, you’ll transfer from Puerto Natales to the airport in Punta Arenas. You'll then hop on a domestic flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago where you'll transfer to the international terminal for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!