Chile is chock-full of distinct natural wonders. Case in point, the otherworldly marble caves of the unspoiled Aysén region, in Chilean Patagonia. On this five-day jaunt, you'll visit these geological formations, along with massive glaciers and marine life in Laguna San Rafael National Park. Round out the adventure with a night in Santiago for a dose of cosmopolitan cuisine and culture.

Highlights

  • Wander the cobblestoned streets of Chile's leafy capital
  • Skip the crowds and explore lesser-visited areas of Patagonia
  • Photograph the marble caves with a knowledgable guide
  • Sip a glass of whiskey that has been chilled with glacier ice 
  • Take a moderate hike with views of the region's highest peak

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to Balmaceda - Puerto Río Tranquilo (Marble Caves) Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Day 3 Transfer to Exploradores Valley - Afternoon Hike Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Day 4 Boat Trip to Laguna San Rafael National Park & San Rafael Glacier Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Day 5 Balmaceda 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 Balmaceda - Puerto Río Tranquilo (Marble Caves)

The Capillas de Mármol
The Capillas de Mármol

After breakfast, you'll make a quick transfer to the airport for a flight to Balmaceda, a village located in northern Patagonia's Aysén region. A driver will meet you upon arrival and you'll head south for four hours to Puerto Río Tranquilo, a town located on General Carrera Lake. The route may be lengthy, but it's packed with stunning scenery as you make your way through Cerro Castillo National Park and its thick Nothofagus forest, passing the Chiguay Lagoon and into the Río Murta Valley before reaching the azure waters of General Carrera. 

Puerto Río Tranquilo is the base for boat tours to the Capillas de Mármol, a network of marble caves near the lakeshore. These are the result of thousands of years of erosion, and the deep white crevices at the base of the giant marble pillars shine iridescent in the reflection of the water. Be sure to take plenty of photos when you tour these caves because they're guaranteed to impress.

Day 3: Transfer to Exploradores Valley - Afternoon Hike

Exploradores Valley
Exploradores Valley

Today, you'll get an early morning transfer by vehicle, about 31 miles (50 km), to Valle Exploradores. This northern Patagonian valley is home to its namesake glacier, which sits under the shadow of Chilean Patagonia's highest mountain, Monte San Valentin at 13,313 feet (4,058 m).

Here, you'll begin a moderate hike through dense evergreen forests and over a moraine until reaching a lookout point. If the weather is clear, relish in the panoramic views of the glacier, San Valentin, and even the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. After the trek, return to Puerto Río Tranquilo where you'll have the rest of the day to relax.

Day 4: Boat Trip to Laguna San Rafael National Park & San Rafael Glacier

Enjoy stunning views on Laguna San Rafael
Enjoy stunning views on Laguna San Rafael

Today you'll depart bright and early from Puerto Río Tranquilo for the 47-mile (77 km) trip west to Bahía Exploradora. Once you arrive, you'll connect to a boat for a fun day excursion on the lake. Your guide will provide a brief safety lesson before you discover your sea legs.

Thus begins an easy route through the delta of the Exploradores River, where you will have breakfast amid the beautiful scenery. After about 2.5 hours, you will reach Laguna San Rafael National Park and the San Rafael Glacier. There will be ample time to enjoy the views and snap photos of the floating blocks of ice and a variety of wildlife including marine otters, sea lions, black-necked swans, and condor while a box lunch is served. Imbibers can also sip a glass of whiskey chilled with ice from the glacier that boasts millions of years of history. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll return to the pier at Bahía Exploradores where you'll transfer by car back to Puerto Tranquilo in time for dinner. 

Day 5: Balmaceda to Santiago - Departure

Goodbye, Patagonia!
Goodbye, Patagonia!

It's time to say goodbye to Chile! It's been quite the adventure, but as the old saying goes, all good things must end. At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Santiago and meet your connecting flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Marble Caves & Carretera Austral - 5 Days
Map of Marble Caves & Carretera Austral - 5 Days