- Take a foodie tour of Santiago
- Explore the colorful coastal city of Valparaiso
- Embark on the famous "W" Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park
- Fly to northern Patagonia and explore the famous "marble caves" of General Carrera Lake
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago de Chile||Santiago|
|Day 2||A Bite of Santiago||Santiago|
|Day 3||Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour||Santiago|
|Day 4||Santiago to Patagonia - Torres del Paine National Park||Torres del Paine|
|Day 5||W Trek - Day 1/5||Torres del Paine|
|Day 6||W Trek - Day 2/5||Torres del Paine|
|Day 7||W Trek - Day 3/5||Torres del Paine|
|Day 8||W Trek - Day 4/5||Torres del Paine|
|Day 9||W Trek - Day 5/5||Torres del Paine|
|Day 10||Torres del Paine to Santiago||Santiago|
|Day 11||Santiago to Balmaceda - Puerto Río Tranquilo (Marble Caves)||Puerto Rio Tranquilo|
|Day 12||Exploradores Valley||Puerto Rio Tranquilo|
|Day 13||Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Santiago||Santiago|
|Day 14||Departing Santiago|
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile
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: A Bite of Santiago
Today you'll get out and explore on a half-day food tour of Santiago. It's an immersive experience that reveals the true beating heart of the city, which is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. It's so informative, in fact, that by the end of it, you'll be an honorary Santiaguino.
Highlights of the tour include:
Wandering the aisles of Santiago's labyrinthine central market. This is the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and local residents eager to get their hands on the freshest of the day's 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 tasting of traditional Chilen dishes. It's not enough to experience the kinetic energy of the marketplace—you'll want to do like a local and indulge your taste buds as well. You'll also get a glimpse into how some of Chile's most famous dishes are prepared.
Ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. After the market its time to hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits about 300 meters (984 feet) above the city. Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.
- Take a lunch break in the fashionably bohemian enclave in Barrio Bellavista. It's time for even more food, this time in the trendiest neighborhood in the city: Bellavista. Here you'll find a diverse array of funky cafés, international eateries, and high-end restaurants.
After the tour, you will return to your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing.
Tour Duration: Half-day (with English-speaking guide)
Day 3: Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour
After breakfast, you will depart from your hotel bound for the historic Chilean coastal city of Valparaiso. This is a special treat because Valparaiso is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's also the most romantic and artistic city in the country.
But that's not all. En route you will 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 then taste four different wines paired with local cheeses and chocolates.
Shortly after the tour, you'll arrive in Valparaiso. This colorful, well-preserved seaport is a throwback to the turn of the 20th century when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and lurching funicular elevators carried passengers to the highest points in the city. The tour of Valparaiso 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 Valparaiso, as there's nothing quite like strolling among the brightly painted houses, old churches, and cobbled squares that comprise this city. And no matter where you happen to be, you can always find sweeping views of the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss.
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.
Tour Duration: Full day
Day 4: Santiago to Patagonia - Torres del Paine National Park
Today is mostly a travel day, as you have a few transfers before arriving at the ultimate destination: Torres del Paine National Park. This is one of the most iconic and beautiful protected areas in Patagonia, and it's here you'll embark on an epic five-day trekking excursion known as the W Circuit. It's so named because one of the more common treks follows a "W" pattern around the park.
In the morning a driver will pick you up for the transfer to Santiago's airport, where you'll catch a flight to Punta Arenas, a city located deep in Chilean Patagonia on the shores of the Strait of Magellan. You'll then transfer from the airport in Punta Arenas for the three-hour drive to Torres del Paine, stopping en route in Puerto Natales, an attractive city situated on the Esperanza Sound. Here you'll enjoy a hearty local lunch complete with views across the water to the snowy peak of Mt. Balmaceda.
You'll then continue on to Torres del Paine. On the remainder of the drive, you'll likely spot some of Patagonia's famed wildlife, including guanacos (a type of camelid similar to a llama) and rheas. You'll then enter the park and arrive at EcoCamp Patagonia, a unique dome hotel that combines rustic luxury with environmental sustainability. This is where you'll overnight.
Know that sunset usually occurs around 11 pm in the Patagonian summer months. So even though you'll arrive at your destination later in the day, you'll still have ample time to admire the surrounding mountain scenery. You certainly won't miss the iconic triple peaks of the Paine Massif, part of the Cordillera del Paine. They rise sharply into the sky like jagged horns, hence their nickname, the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine).
Day 5: W Trek - Day 1/5
The trekking circuit begins with a pleasant walk on the Cuernos Trail, which runs alongside the bright turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjold. This section is more of a warm-up hike, and its easy pace allows you to admire Patagonia's remarkable flora and fauna while being surrounded by the park’s central lakes and the peaks of the Paine Massif. The hike ends at Refugio Los Cuernos, a cozy mountain refuge located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjold.
Alternatively, depending on the schedule, the trek could end at Domo el Francés, a campground featuring three dome bungalows, located between Cuernos and Refugio Italiano, which affords an amazing view of Lake Nordenskjöld. Regardless of where you overnight, you'll have the evening free to relax and enjoy dinner.
Day 6: W Trek - Day 2/5
After breakfast, you'll transfer to the dock at Pudeto where you'll board a catamaran and take a 30-minute ride across Lago Pehoé. From here you'll begin the challenging trek to Valle Frances (French Valley) on a steep trail leading near the Paine Massif. How far in you go depends on the overall speed of your particular group. If you make good time, you'll reach a hanging bridge over the French River, located at the foot of the southeast face of the massif. Here you'll be treated to stunning valley views.
You'll then hike to the upper section of the valley where you can marvel at the geological formations and glaciers. After this portion of the trek, we will pause for a picnic and relax. Your group will then descend through grassland and forest until you reach Refugio Paine Grande, located on the shores of Lake Pehoé, where you will overnight.
Note: the excursion to French Valley varies throughout the season depending on the schedule of the catamaran connecting Pudeto and Refugio Pehoé.
Day 7: W Trek - Day 3/5
Today you'll hike from Refugio Paine Grande along Lake Pehoé to the northern side of Lake Grey, which is fed by the glacier of the same name. Here you'll enjoy a picnic lunch before boarding a vessel that sails right up to the massive and jagged ice wall of Grey Glacier. From the boat, you'll likely witness great chunks of ice breaking off the wall and crashing into the water below. This is a process called "calving," which is the result of the glacier slowly encroaching ever further into the water.
If the boat trip is canceled due to weather conditions, your group will instead trek up to a viewing point where you can marvel at panoramic vistas of the glacier. You'll also have the chance to take a kayak excursion on the lake and maneuver around the small icebergs. After, you'll return on foot to Refugio Paine Grande and take a catamaran to the dock at Pudeto, where a vehicle will meet you and transfer you to the next base camp.
Day 8: W Trek - Day 4/5
This is your penultimate day on one of the most famous nature treks in the world. As such, we've saved the best view for last. Today you'll be trekking up to the base of the famous Paine Massif. In the morning you'll hike to the Hotel Las Torres, at which point you'll gradually ascend through the Ascencio Valley, located on the massif's eastern face.
It's a rigorous hike but an incredible one. Along the way, you'll pass below jagged mountain ridges, through beech forests, and over small rivers. Just before the base of the massif lies the greatest obstacle of the trek: a steep moraine that requires deftly maneuvering around masses of boulders. At this point, you'll look up and the site of three gigantic granite monoliths, the result of millennia of glacial ice erosion, will tell you that you've arrived at the base of the Paine Massif.
After the tough uphill climb, you've earned a break. So now you'll kick back on the shore of the turquoise lagoon at the foot of the massif and enjoy a picnic lunch. Savor the memory and take plenty of photos, because there aren't views quite like this anywhere in the world.
After eating, you'll backtrack along the same trail through the Ascencio Valley and return to camp for a hearty dinner.
Day 9: W Trek - Day 5/5
In contrast with yesterday's ascent to the Paine Massif, the fifth day of the W Circuit involves a much less arduous hike. After breakfast, you'll transfer by vehicle to Laguna Azul, which is notable for the views of the Paine Massif looming over it. En route you'll pass by Cañadón Macho, an area of golden hills home to wild guanacos and ñandúes (a type of Rhea).
At Laguna Azul, you'll hike to a lookout point where you'll be treated to a gorgeous view of both the lagoon and the granite towers of the massif. After lunch, you'll drive to the northern shore of Lago Sarmiento where the Fauna Trail begins. As we hike northbound, you'll see an impressive range of Patagonian fauna on the vast plains, including guanacos, ñandús (a type of Rhea) and maybe even a puma. After approximately five km (three miles) of relaxed walking, you'll reach the Laguna Amarga ranger station. A driver will meet you here and transfer your group back to camp where you'll enjoy a celebratory dinner.
Day 10: Torres del Paine to Santiago
It's time to say farewell to Torres del Paine. Not to worry, though, as your Patagonian adventure doesn't end here. A driver will meet you in the early morning for the three-hour transfer to Punta Arenas. You'll then hop a flight back to Santiago and check into an airport hotel for just one night. Get ready, because tomorrow you're off to a whole new region: northern Patagonia and the famed Aysén region.
Day 11: Santiago to Balmaceda - Puerto Río Tranquilo (Marble Caves)
After breakfast, you'll transfer the short distance from your hotel to the airport for a flight to Balmaceda, a village located in northern Patagonia's Aysén region. A driver will meet you and you'll ride south about four hours to Puerto Río Tranquilo, a town located on General Carrera Lake. The drive down may be long, 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 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 12: Exploradores Valley
At 7 am you will transfer by vehicle 50 km (31 miles) to Valle Exploradores. This northern Patagonian valley is home to its namesake glacier, which sits under the shadow of Chile's highest mountain, Monte San Valentin (4,058 meters/13,313 feet). You'll begin a hike of medium difficulty through dense evergreen forest and over a moraine until reaching a lookout point. If the weather is clear, you'll get panoramic views of the glacier, San Valentin, and even the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. After the trek, you'll return to Puerto Río Tranquilo and have the rest of the day to relax.
Day 13: Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Santiago
This is your last day in Chile's Aysén Region. In the morning you will drive north about four hours to the airport in Balmaceda and catch a flight to Santiago. Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel downtown. You can spend the remainder of the day relaxing and recharging after your great Patagonian adventure.
Day 14: Departing Santiago
This morning, transfer from your hotel to the Santiago airport for check-in to your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!