This 15-day itinerary packs a lot of punch for those keen on experiencing as much Chilean nature as possible. Start off with some urban culture before flying south to frolic with thousands of penguins. Next, you’ll spend several days trekking in one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. Finish in northern Patagonia's Aysén region for glaciers and marble cave formations you won't soon forget.

Highlights

  • Check out Santiago's bohemian quarter for Chile's best eats
  • Explore the coastal city of Valparaiso and have lunch in a winery
  • Boat to Isla Magdalena and meet a huge colony of penguins (170,000 of them!)
  • Get bragging rights by completing a 5-day trek in Patagonia
  • Visit marble caves in South America's 2nd largest lake

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley Santiago
Day 3 Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 4 Isla Magdalena & Penguin Colony Boat Tour Punta Arenas
Day 5 Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 6 W Trek - Day 1/5 Torres del Paine
Day 7 W Trek - Day 2/5 Torres del Paine
Day 8 W Trek - Day 3/5 Torres del Paine
Day 9 W Trek - Day 4/5 Torres del Paine
Day 10 W Trek - Day 5/5 Torres del Paine
Day 11 Torres del Paine to Santiago Santiago
Day 12 Santiago to Balmaceda - Puerto Río Tranquilo (Marble Caves) Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Day 13 Transfer to Exploradores Valley - Afternoon Hike Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Day 14 Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Santiago Santiago
Day 15 Depart Santiago  

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: Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley

Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley
Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley

This morning, after breakfast, you'll depart from your hotel in Santiago and drive about an hour west towards the coast. Your destination is the Casablanca Valley, which is home to many top wineries. Here you'll take a tour, tasting, and enjoy lunch at the wonderful Casa del Bosque Winery.

After lunch, you'll continue the short distance to the coast and the cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. First up is the port city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its colorful hillside neighborhoods, winding stairways, and abundance of street art. It's a throwback to a time when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and funicular elevators carried people high into the hills. On a city tour, you'll visit some famous sites, such as Plaza de la Victoria and the Naval Academy, and ride a funicular high into the hills where panoramic vistas of the bay await. A real highlight is visiting the former home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. 

From here, you'll drive a short way to the adjacent town of Viña del Mar, which couldn't be more different in terms of style than its neighbor. Whereas Valparaiso is a retro artistic haven, Viña is a modern seaside hotspot abounding with sleek shopping centers and upscale restaurants. Once you've explored the city and waterfront, you'll return to Santiago in time for dinner.

Day 3: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas is your jumping on/off point for Patagonia
Punta Arenas is your jumping on/off point for Patagonia

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, you'll transfer by private car to the hotel.

You're now in the major transport hub in one of the most beautiful regions of Chile. 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 destination, 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.

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 4: Isla Magdalena & Penguin Colony Boat Tour

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.

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

Day 5: Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine

Guanacos in Torres del Paine
Guanacos in Torres del Paine

Early this morning, depart from your hotel in Punta Arenas for 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 reaching Torres del Paine it's time to start the extensive full-day tour. You'll visit some of the park's main attractions, such as the Amarga Lagoon, which features views of the iconic peaks of the Horns of Paine (part of the Cordillera Paine). You'll also trek alongside Salto Grande, the famous thundering waterfalls found in this national park. At noon, you'll enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the park before continuing on the excursion. Finally, at the end of the day, return to your hotel in the park to enjoy a relaxing evening.

Day 6: W Trek - Day 1/5

Start the trek with some great views
Start the trek with some great views

Today marks the start of your epic journey through the furthest reaches of Torres del Paine! The W 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 7: W Trek - Day 2/5

The French Valley
The French Valley

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 8: W Trek - Day 3/5

Grey Glacier
Grey Glacier

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 9: W Trek - Day 4/5

The base of the Paine Massif
The base of the Paine Massif

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 10: W Trek - Day 5/5

Laguna Azul in Torres del Paine
Laguna Azul in Torres del Paine

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 11: Torres del Paine to Santiago

Farewell, Torres del Paine
Farewell, Torres del Paine

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 12: 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 13: Transfer to Exploradores Valley - Afternoon Hike

Views in Valle Exploradores
Views in Valle Exploradores

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 14: Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Santiago

Wildflowers during summer months
Wildflowers during summer months

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. If you have some energy, take advantage of any cultural sites, wine bars, or restaurants you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. 

Day 15: Depart Santiago

Goodbye for now, Santiago!
Goodbye for now, Santiago!

It's time to say farewell to Chile! In the morning, you'll transfer from your hotel to the airport in Santiago for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Patagonia's W Trek & Marble Caves - 15 Days
Map of Patagonia's W Trek & Marble Caves - 15 Days