This two-week Chilean trip combines the southern tip of Patagonia with a major trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Starting from Santiago, fly to Punta Arenas for neoclassical architecture and penguins before heading to Puerto Natales—the jumping on/off point for Torres del Paine. Then join the Paine Massif Circuit ("O"), a more challenging option than its sister trek ("W"). You'll beat the crowds by hiking the remote backside of the park for an even more memorable experience with nature.

Highlights

  • Get a taste of Santiago's restaurants and wine bars on your first night
  • See the majestic neoclassical mansions in Punta Arenas
  • Take a boat to Isla Magdalena and spend time with thousands of penguins
  • Enjoy a traditional Patagonia BBQ after checking out two glaciers
  • Spend 8 days trekking (and camping) amongst beautiful scenery 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 3 Isla Magdalena & Penguin Colony Boat Tour Punta Arenas
Day 4 Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 5 Mount Balmaceda & Serrano Glacier Puerto Natales
Day 6 Transfer to Torres Del Paine - O Trek Day 1/8: Visit the Famous Towers Torres del Paine
Day 7 O Trek Day 2/8: Paine River Torres del Paine
Day 8 O Trek Day 3/8: Glacier Dickson & Lake Paine Torres del Paine
Day 9 O Trek Day 4/8: Lengas & Coigues Forest Trekking Torres del Paine
Day 10 O Trek Day 5/8: Cross the John Gardner Pass Torres del Paine
Day 11 O Trek Day 6/8: Hike to Lake Pehoe Torres del Paine
Day 12 O Trek Day 7/8: Explore the French Valley Torres del Paine
Day 13 O Trek Day 8/8: Return to Laguna Amarga - Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 14 Puerto Natales to Santiago - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Warm up your hiking legs with a trip to the top of Cerro San Cristobal
Warm up your hiking legs with a trip 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: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas

The tip of the continent
The tip of the continent

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, Punta Arenas was, in its heyday, 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 3: 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 18 miles (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 4: Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales

The Ultima Esperanza Sound, Puerto Natales
The Ultima Esperanza Sound, Puerto Natales

At the scheduled time you'll hop on a bus going from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, further north in Chilean Patagonia. This trip will take about three hours, and along the way, you will be treated to wide views of the expansive Patagonian desert. If you're lucky you may spot some local wildlife, including the guanaco (a relative of the llama) and the ñandu (a type of rhea). 

Upon arrival at Puerto Natales, check into your accommodation and then head to the tour operator office for a trip briefing. At this point, you will be able to ask any last-minute questions as well as pick up all of your tickets and vouchers for the next few days' adventures.

Afterward, you're free to explore Puerto Natales. This small port city is the main base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. It's far less touristy than many other Patagonian hubs and thus retains an 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 is phenomenal at sunset.

Day 5: Mount Balmaceda & Serrano Glacier

Serrano Glacier
Serrano Glacier

Early this morning, you'll head to the dock at Puerto Natales and hop on a boat bound for Mount Balmaceda, located in the southern end of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. The park is only accessible by foot or by boat, and this nine-hour day tour follows the Ultima Esperanza Sound from Puerto Natales to the mountain (in other words, keep your camera close). 

On the boat ride, you'll be treated to vast, panoramic views of native forests comprised of coihue, canelo, and lenga trees. You're also likely to spot sea lions as you head north towards the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. You’ll then disembark and have an opportunity to enjoy views of these glaciers from land. After a short hike, you’ll then reach the Hosteria Perales, where a typical Patagonian barbecue will be served. 

In the afternoon you'll return by boat to Puerto Natales.

Day 6: Transfer to Torres Del Paine - O Trek Day 1/8: Visit the Famous Towers

Monte Almirante Nieto
Monte Almirante Nieto

After an early breakfast at your hotel in Puerto Natales, you'll transfer to Torres del Paine. The trip to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga is approximately two hours by bus.

After arriving and registering yourself in the park, you will begin to hike up Almirante Nieto, a mountain with incredible views of Lake Nordenskjold and the Asencio Valley. You'll make a steady climb for about two hours before arriving at Refugio Chileno for your overnight.

Here you can store your large pack before continuing onto the Las Torres Lookout where you will begin hiking about an hour through a dense lenga forest. Once you leave the forest you will approach a moraine and climb to see the amazing granite peaks known as the Torres. After admiring the view, you will return to Refugio Chileno for dinner and a good's night rest.

Hiking distance: 9.6 miles (15.5 km)
Hiking time: 6.5 hours

Day 7: O Trek Day 2/8: Paine River

The Paine River, or Rio Paine
The Paine River, or Rio Paine

After breakfast at camp, it's time to begin the day with a four-hour hike along a fairly flat trail. As you wind along the beautiful Paine River, you'll have plenty of opportunities to admire the deep blue waters of Laguna Azul and the picturesque view of Encantado Valley—a valley surrounded by rock formations created by centuries of wind.

When you reach Dome & Camping Seron, an old Baqueano (Patagonian cowboy) post, the land will stretch out before you. This hiking day will end with dinner, after which you will fall asleep under the brightly shining stars.

Hiking distance: 8.1 miles (13 km)
Hiking time: 4 hours

Day 8: O Trek Day 3/8: Glacier Dickson & Lake Paine

Trekkers soaking up the views
Trekkers soaking up the views

Today's trail distance is longer than yesterday so make sure to have a hearty breakfast. The seven-hour route will begin with a steady uphill climb past a small lagoon where you will reach a lookout with incredible views of Lake Paine.

As you descend the hill, breathtaking views will continue to surround you. You will be able to see a range of mountains that separate Chile and Argentina, along with peaks located on the northern side of the park’s Paine Massif. Continuing along, you'll eventually cross over marsh via wooden boardwalks created by park rangers.

Once you've traversed the marsh, you'll begin crossing ancient moraine valleys where you'll start to notice the imposing glacier tongue of the Southern Ice Field. From here, continue to Camping Dickson where you will spend the evening.

Hiking distance: 11.2 miles (18 km)
Hiking time: 6 hours

Day 9: O Trek Day 4/8: Lengas & Coigues Forest Trekking

A lush forest within the park
A lush forest within the park

After breakfast at camp, it's time to begin another day of hiking! Today's route is relatively easy and takes just over four hours as it traverses one of the oldest forests in the park. In fact, you'll hike past forests of lengas and coigues—both of which flourished after the glaciers receded.

After lunch, you'll reach a moraine at the foot of Glacier Los Perros where you will set up camp for the night and have dinner.

Hiking distance: 6.8 miles (11 km)
Hiking time: 4.5 hours

Day 10: O Trek Day 5/8: Cross the John Gardner Pass

A good spot to rest
A good spot to rest

Today, you will have the privilege of waking up and having breakfast surrounded by a beautiful forest. Then it's time to begin a slow but steady climb up a hill for approximately 650 feet (200 m). Since the beautiful lenga and coigue trees cover some of this trail, the surface at the beginning of the day will likely be on the moist side before drying out.

With over an hour of hiking, you'll reach the end of the forest and begin trekking up rockslides towards the John Gardner Pass. You'll then reach smaller patches of trees while gaining a bit of elevation. From this part of the trail, you will be able to see Glaciar Amistad, Cerro Blanco Sur, Punta Puma, and, finally, the John Gardner Pass.

You will begin climbing again until you reach 3,937 feet (1,200 m). This is where an astonishing view of Glacier Grey and Patagonia’s Southern Ice Field awaits. After capturing this breathtaking vista, it's time to begin hiking downhill for about two hours until you reach Campamento Paso for a short rest.

From here you will continue hiking for four more hours along an undulating trail with views of the glacier, as well as Lake Grey and Ferrier Hill. Before reaching Campamento Grey you will cross several of the parks famous suspension bridges, ultimately bringing you to some close-up views of Glacier Grey. Once you reach Grey you will have time to shower and rest before enjoying a nice hot meal in the Refugio.

Hiking distance: 13.7 miles (22 km)
Hiking time: 11 hours

Day 11: O Trek Day 6/8: Hike to Lake Pehoe

Lake Pehoe's lucky vantage point
Lake Pehoe's lucky vantage point

After a restful night and an energizing breakfast, you will be ready to hike again. Today's route involves a four-hour hike along Lake Grey and then through a small forest. During most days, this section of the park is very windy due to the openness provided by Lake Grey, Glacier Grey and the Southern Ice Field—in other words, keep your windproof jacket within easy reach. 

In the afternoon you will arrive at Camping Paine Grande on the shore of the beautiful Lake Pehoe.

Hiking distance: 6.8 miles (11 km)
Hiking time: 3.5-4 hours

Day 12: O Trek Day 7/8: Explore the French Valley

Keep your camera close for these stunning views
Keep your camera close for these stunning views

This spectacular day on the trail starts with a leisurely hike to the entrance of the French Valley. As you walk along the border of Lake Skottsberg, take time to admire the tremendous peaks towering in front of you: Los Cuernos!

After about 2.5 hours, you will arrive at Campamento Italiano where you can rest for a bit before continuing your journey.

Now, ascending into the valley, the views in every direction—Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos, and the French Glacier—are absolutely stunning. Meanwhile, in the back of the valley you can see various peaks. After soaking up the views, you will hike back down to Campamento Italiano to continue alongside rolling hills as you follow the coastline of Lake Nordenskjold.

You will continue on for another two hours until you reach your camp, located on the lake. After a relaxing afternoon and a filling dinner, it's time to hit the hay for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

Hiking distance: 10.7 miles (17.3 km) 
Hiking time: 7 hours

Day 13: O Trek Day 8/8: Return to Laguna Amarga - Transfer to Puerto Natales

Savor one last sunrise in the park
Savor one last sunrise in the park

Today is the last day of the trek! Start off with breakfast at camp before you pack up and hit the trail. Your mission is to leave the monstrous Los Cuernos behind and begin hiking back to the entrance of the park. The walk is about four hours in duration and you'll arrive at Las Torres in time to take a shuttle back to Laguna Amarga. This is where you'll also bid farewell to your trekking guide! 

From the park entrance, you'll take the return bus ride all the way back to Puerto Natales, arriving in the early evening—just in time for a restaurant dinner and a cozy night´s sleep in a warm bed. 

Hiking distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)
Hiking time: 4.5 hours

Day 14: Puerto Natales to Santiago - Departure

Farewell, Chile!
Farewell, Chile!

Today, you’ll transfer from Puerto Natales to the airport in Punta Arenas. You'll then hop on a domestic flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago where you'll transfer to the international terminal for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Punta Arenas & the "O" Trek - 14 Days
Map of Punta Arenas & the "O" Trek - 14 Days