In nine days you can experience many highlights of both Chile's Lake District and Chilean Patagonia. Begin in Santiago before heading to Puerto Varas and the Lake District. Encounter waterfalls, volcanoes, and more—you'll even visit Chilóe, one of the most culturally distinct islands in the region. Then it's off to Patagonia for penguin-watching and excursions into Torres del Paine National Park.

Highlights

  • Stay in Puerto Varas, a lakeside town with German architecture
  • Visit the highlights of Chile's Lake District including Petrohué Falls
  • Explore the mythic island of Chiloé
  • Go on a penguin-watching outing in Punta Arenas
  • Enjoy an excursion into Torres del Paine National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Flight to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 3 Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohué Falls & Todos los Santos Lake Puerto Varas
Day 4 Explore Chiloé Island & Puñihuil Penguins National Reserve Puerto Varas
Day 5 Transfer to Puerto Montt - Flight to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 6 Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony & Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Days 7-8 Explore Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Day 9 Torres del Paine to Santiago & Departure  

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: Flight to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas

The village of Puerto Varas
The village of Puerto Varas

After breakfast at your hotel in Santiago, you'll depart on a short flight to Puerto Montt, a port city in southern Chile that is also known as a gateway to the Andes mountains and Patagonian fjords. When you arrive, you'll meet your English-speaking guide who will transport you in a private vehicle to Puerto Varas.

From here, you'll drop your luggage at the hotel, enjoy lunch, and then re-join your guide for a tour of the charming little village of Puerto Varas next to Llanquihue Lake. Enjoy the village’s mix of German architecture and Mapuche indigenous cultural influence.

In the afternoon, drive to the famous Petrohué Waterfalls, where you'll get a great view of the snowcapped Osorno Volcano. At the end of the day, drive back to your hotel in Puerto Varas where you'll have the rest of the evening to explore the "ciudad de las rosas" or city of roses.

Day 3: Tour of Osorno Volcano, Petrohué Falls & Todos los Santos Lake

Petrohué Falls with Osorno in the background
Petrohué Falls with Osorno in the background

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 until ultimately reaching an impressive lookout at a height of 4,068 ft (1,240 m) above sea level.

After hiking back down, lunch will be served, after which time 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's a network of pathways all around that offer various 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 4: Explore Chiloé Island & Puñihuil Penguins National Reserve

A local vegetable market in Ancud
A local vegetable market in Ancud

In the morning you'll transfer from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt and then continue up the Panamericana 5 highway to the port of Pargua. Once you reach the ferry terminal, you'll embark on a 30-minute boat ride across the Chacao Channel to Chiloé Island. The first destination here is the town of Ancud, on the northern end of Chiloé. The town features a viewpoint from atop Huaihuen Hill where you'll have stunning views of Ancud's many impressive landmarks, including the Fuerte San Antonio, an early 19th-century Spanish-colonial fort that played a significant role in the wars for independence. You'll also visit the regional museum and municipal market as well as the Caulín Bird Sanctuary, which is a shelter for migratory birds like black-necked swans, flamingoes, and herons.

The day trip continues with a visit to a penguin colony in nearby Puñihuil. The area is filled with both Magellanic and Humboldt penguins. It's the only place in the world where these two species coexist. In the late afternoon, you'll return to Puerto Varas and enjoy a relaxing evening in town. 

Day 5: Transfer to Puerto Montt - Flight to Punta Arenas

The colorful city of Punta Arenas
The colorful city of Punta Arenas

It's time to go deep into Chilean Patagonia! The journey starts in the morning with a private transfer to the airport at Puerto Montt where you'll catch a flight to Punta Arenas, a city located near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. Due to its location on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Punta Arenas is often used as a base for excursions to the surrounding wilderness and Antarctica.

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and will have the rest of the evening to explore the city at your leisure. 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.

Also, 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 6: Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony & Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park

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.

After enjoying lunch in Punta Arenas, you'll transfer to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park. On the way, you'll certainly spot some of the local fauna, including many species of birds as well as the guanaco, a wild camelid related to the llama. 

Upon arrival in Torres del Paine, you'll check in to your hotel, and you'll have the rest of the day to relax and explore at your leisure. 

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

Days 7-8: Explore Torres del Paine National Park

A guanaco considers Torres del Paine
A guanaco considers Torres del Paine

For your time in Torres del Paine National Park, you'll have a choice between several half or full-day tours. 

Regarding the shorter tours, you might be surprised at how much you can see of Torres del Paine in just three or four hours. Whether by foot, horse, or vehicle, these half-day guided excursions are packed with adventure and interesting information about the park’s flora, fauna, geology, and human history. An experienced guide will take you to impressive natural wonders like the Salto Grande waterfall and Laguna Azul. All throughout the journey, you'll pass through exotic lenga forests abounding with wildlife. 

Full-day excursions tend to last between seven and 10 hours, and they leave in the morning. Embarking on one of these outings gives you an opportunity to explore the best hiking paths, horse trails, scenic roads, and the various lakes of Torres del Paine. For full-day tours, the hotel will prepare a box lunch that you can take with you, as well as enough water and snacks to keep you energized for your park adventure.

Day 9: Torres del Paine to Santiago & Departure

Goodbye, Torres del Paine
Goodbye, Torres del Paine

Today, you’ll take a private transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to the Punta Arenas airport. You'll then hop on a domestic flight to Santiago. From there you'll meet your connecting flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Lake District & Patagonia - 9 Days
Map of Lake District & Patagonia - 9 Days