Few other places in the world can compete with the wild, jagged mountains and enormous panoramas of Patagonia. With this 13-day adventure, you’ll get the best of the region—in both countries— starting with Chilean Patagonia. Here you'll partake in the famed 'W' trek—a multi-day hike that covers the furthest reaches of Torres del Paine. Then bus over to Argentine Patagonia for ancient glaciers and the iconic Mt. Fitz Roy. Kick off the adventure in Chile's capital for a dose of big-city culture.

Highlights

  • Explore Santiago's Barrio Bellavista for hip restaurants and bars
  • Tour Valparaiso's street art and Viña del Mar's beaches before heading south
  • Get bragging rights after completing a trek in Torres del Paine
  • Stay overnight in Argentine Patagonia's best mountain towns
  • Take a boat to Perito Moreno—a rare glacier that is actually advancing

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Day-Trip to Viña del Mar & Valparaiso Santiago
Day 3 Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas - Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 4 Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine - W Trek Day 1/4: Mirador Base Torres Torres del Paine
Day 5 W Trek Day 2/4: Refugio el Chileno to Refugio Los Cuernos Torres del Paine
Day 6 W Trek Day 3/4: The French Valley to Refugio Paine Grande Torres del Paine
Day 7 W Trek Day 4/4: Glacier Grey to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 8 Puerto Natales to El Calafate (Argentina) El Calafate
Day 9 Perito Moreno Full-Day Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 10 El Calafate to El Chaltén - Hike to Laguna Capri El Chalten
Day 11 Hiking in El Chaltén El Chalten
Day 12 El Chaltén to El Calafate - Return to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 13 Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas - 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: Day-Trip to Viña del Mar & Valparaiso

The colorful streets of Valparaiso
The colorful streets of Valparaiso

Today you'll leave the capital on an excursion to central Chile's Pacific Coast. You're in for a treat because on this trip you'll be visiting two incredible neighboring cities: Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. These places are unique in that they're as different atmospherically as they are close in proximity. 

First, you'll arrive in Viña del Mar, an upscale coastal resort city teeming with shopping complexes, commercial high-rises, boutiques, and well-manicured gardens. The city's modern image is the result of many buildings being rebuilt after the numerous earthquakes that have hit the Chilean coast over the years. That said, you can still find some early 20th century landmarks, like the Germanic Wulff Castle and the Venetian-Gothic Vergara Palace, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. Indeed this city is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants on the shore. 

Your next visit is to the port city of Valparaiso, located adjacent to Viña del Mar. This colorful metropolis is the artistic and bohemian soul of the country. It's filled with street art, music, and poetry. Moreover, it's 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.

You can start exploring Valparaiso by visiting the old plazas of Sotomayor and Aníbal Pinto. Then hop in the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top. From here you can wander the hilly neighborhoods of Cerro AlegreCerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. It's on this last hill where you'll find La Sebastiana, a museum that was once the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. No matter where you go here, you can always find sweeping views looking out over the colorful houses to the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss.   

Afterward,  it's time to hop back in the minivan, transfer to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Day 3: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas - Transfer to Puerto Natales

Aerial view of Punta Arenas
Aerial view of Punta Arenas

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch a flight to the city of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, you'll hop a bus for a three-hour trip north to Puerto Natales. When you arrive, you'll transfer to your hotel and have the rest of the evening to relax and explore the town. 

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 at sunset is phenomenal.

Day 4: Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine - W Trek Day 1/4: Mirador Base Torres

View of the Horns of Paine from Mirador Base Torres
View of the Horns of Paine from Mirador Base Torres

In the morning, you'll hop a bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park (Laguna Amarga Main Entrance). The total distance is 70 miles/112 km, and the drive takes about two hours, with a short stop at Cerro Castillo Village. The scenery along the way will be incredible, as you'll get your first glimpses of Torres del Paine's massive peaks as well as some of the local fauna, like guanacos. 

You'll arrive at the Laguna Amarga main entrance and register yourself with the park office (the entry fee is already included). Then it's a quick shuttle ride to the Las Torres sector. From here you'll hike up Mt. Almirante Nieto, which features stunning views of the Asencio Valley below and Lake Nordenskjold. After two hours of hiking, you'll reach Refugio Chileno, where you'll overnight. You'll leave your heavier bags here and, after a brief rest, continue trekking up the mountain. 

It's another hour of hiking past ancient lenga forests until you arrive at a moraine. The next part is a challenging steep ascent for 45 minutes until you reach the top, which is known as Mirador Base Torres. "Mirador" in English means "viewpoint,"  and this little section of the mountain, with the Cuernos Del Paine (Horns of Paine) looming over a green lagoon, is the best view in the park. From here you can also marvel at the towering peaks of nearby Torre Sur, Central Tower, North Tower, Condor's Nest, and Glacier Torre, all set amidst the sweeping backdrop of the Patagonian highlands.

After spending some time enjoying the views at Base Torres, you'll then hike back to Refugio el Chileno to rest up for the evening. 

Hike distance: 15.5 km/9.6 miles
Hike duration: 6.5 hours

Day 5: W Trek Day 2/4: Refugio el Chileno to Refugio Los Cuernos

Lake Nordenskjöld
Lake Nordenskjöld

After breakfast, you'll depart Refugio el Chileno for a more moderate day of hiking. After passing by the Paine Massif you'll pass the base of Mount Almirante Nieto. Then it's more hiking for 4.5-6 hours, during which you're treated to views of Lake Nordenskjöld's emerald waters, impressive hanging glaciers, and fascinating local flora. Eventually, you will reach the Cuernos sector of the park and spend the night in Refugio Los Cuernos, a welcoming refuge nestled on the hillside in the heart of Torres del Paine.

Hike distance: 11 km/6.8 miles
Hike duration: 4.5 hours

Day 6: W Trek Day 3/4: The French Valley to Refugio Paine Grande

The French Glacier
The French Glacier

Prepare for the longest, most arduous, but also the most rewarding day of trekking on the W circuit. The morning starts with a two-hour hike around Lake Nordenskjöld. Upon reaching the Campamento Italiano sector, you'll leave your bags at the camp and carry on with a small daypack containing the day's necessary food, water, and extra clothing.

Then it's a 1.5-hour ascent beginning at the French River Valley, passing the French Glacier, and finishing at the "British camp," which is a group of primitive log shelters once used by English hikers. Nearby you'll find the Mirador Britanico (British Viewpoint), which features one of the most amazing panoramic views in the park. The mountains of Cerros, Paine Grande, Catedral, Hoja, Máscara, Espada, Aleta de Tiburón, and Cuerno Norte Horn can all be seen from this viewpoint.

Afterward, you'll return on the same path to Campamento Italiano and pick up your bags. You'll then continue on to Refugio Paine Grande, on the shores of Lake Pehoé, and settle in here for the evening.

Hike distance: 17.3 km/10.7 miles
Hike duration: Seven hours

Day 7: W Trek Day 4/4: Glacier Grey to Puerto Natales

Glacier Grey
Glacier Grey

In the morning, you'll depart from Refugio Paine Grande on a hike through native forest and along Lago Grey. After about two hours you'll get your first glimpses of Glacier Grey, the giant mass of ice that feeds the lake, and the peaks of the Cordon Olguin.

You'll cap your Torres del Paine adventure by hopping aboard the Grey III catamaran and taking a tour of the lake as well as getting up close to the glacier.  The catamaran will then leave you at the shore in the Pudeto sector of the park, where a vehicle awaits to transport you back to Puerto Natales. In the evening, you can relax in your hotel and rest after a long day.

Hike distance: 11 km/6.8 miles
Hike duration: four hours

Day 8: Puerto Natales to El Calafate (Argentina)

Entrance into town
Entrance into town

After breakfast at your hotel in Puerto Natales, you'll hop on a scenic bus ride bound for El Calafate in neighboring Argentina. You'll arrive here in the afternoon and check into a cozy hotel near the center of town.

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy as you see fit. No doubt after all your trekking and excursions the previous days, you'll likely prefer a nice evening stroll through town and quiet dinner before hitting the hay and recharging those batteries.

If you're still full of energy, however, you'll find plenty of traveler services, as well as fun bars and restaurants. Since this is a strategic location between El Chaltén and Torres del Paine, it makes an inevitable stop for those in transit.

Day 9: Perito Moreno Full-Day Boat & Walking Tour

Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno
Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno

You're in for an exciting full-day excursion. It starts with a pick up from your hotel in El Calafate, followed by a one-hour transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of 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. 

While not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is indeed the star of the show. It's also unique in that it is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, a factor that results in the calving mentioned above. Upon arrival, you'll be able to admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points via the network of wooden walkways strategically situated in front of the glacier. Even better, you'll also get up close and personal with its massive ice wall on a boat tour. 

After a day spent discovering the glacier and wandering the numerous trails, you'll head back to El Calafate to enjoy the evening as you please.

Day 10: El Calafate to El Chaltén - Hike to Laguna Capri

Off to El Chaltén
Off to El Chaltén

After breakfast, you will go to the bus station in El Calafate where you will board a bus bound for Los Glaciares National Park, specifically the town of El Chaltén. This is a northbound journey that covers about 124 miles (200 km) and takes around three hours. You'll travel predominantly up Ruta 40, the famous Patagonian highway that cuts through great expanses of barren steppe and affords views of snowy peaks on the horizon.

Eventually, you'll reach the popular tourist town of El Chaltén. The second you arrive you'll see its appeal. El Chaltén sits at the foot of the iconic Mount Fitz Roy and is nicknamed "hiker's paradise" due to the abundance of mountaineering options all around.

You don't have to wait to discover the area, either. Upon arrival, you'll embark on a two-hour brisk hike amid native forest to a lagoon with deep blue waters. This is Laguna Capri, a lake that sits at the foot of the mountains and offers an unobstructed view of the jutting granite towers of the Fitz Roy massif. 

After the hike, you will transfer to your hotel and relax for the remainder of the day.

Day 11: Hiking in El Chaltén

Traveler hiking in El Chaltén
Traveler hiking in El Chaltén

Today, you'll have the whole day to discover El Chaltén's numerous hiking trails at your own pace. If you're up for the challenge, hiking to the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy and Laguna Los Tres is highly recommended. For this trek, you can transfer to Estancia El Pilar as your starting point, allowing for a more convenient hike through a variety of picturesque landscapes before looping back to El Chalten. There are also plenty of more relaxed, beginner-friendly trails available. 

In the evening, return to your hotel in El Chaltén.

Day 12: El Chaltén to El Calafate - Return to Puerto Natales

Traffic-free environs near El Calafate
Traffic-free environs near El Calafate

Today will be filled with travel as you cross back into Chilean Patagonia from Argentina. The first order of business is to transfer back to El Calafate, where you will have a portion of the afternoon free to enjoy lunch and/or a stroll around town. In the late afternoon, you will hop on a southbound bus headed for the Chilean town of Puerto Natales. This journey can take upwards of five hours depending on traffic conditions at the Argentina/Chile border.

This is your last evening of the trip so make sure to enjoy it! Make sure to hit up a restaurant or site that you may have missed earlier in the itinerary.

Day 13: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas - Departure

Goodbye, Patagonia!
Goodbye, Patagonia!

It's time to say goodbye to Torres del Paine and Chile. In the morning, you’ll transfer from Puerto Natales to the Punta Arenas airport. There you'll take a domestic flight to Santiago and catch your connecting flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Santiago & Patagonia Exploration - 13 Days
Map of Santiago & Patagonia Exploration - 13 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019