Begin your weeklong Patagonian journey in Chile's metropolitan capital city. Next, head south and walk with Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena. Top it off with a trip to Torres del Paine National Park. Here you'll be treated to breathtaking views of vast grasslands, glaciers, forests, and more. You'll even have the opportunity to hike to the base of the park's iconic towers.

Highlights

  • Walk with Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena
  • Enjoy the famous sights of Torres Del Paine National Park
  • See Grey Glacier, one of the only expanding glaciers in the world

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 3 Isla Magdalena and Penguin Colony Punta Arenas
Day 4 Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 5 Boat Trip to Glacier Grey Torres del Paine
Day 6 Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers Torres del Paine
Day 7 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: Fly from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas, Chile

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 3: Isla Magdalena and Penguin Colony

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.

Day 4: 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 5: Boat Trip to Glacier Grey

Grey Glacier
Grey Glacier

In the morning, you'll enjoy another fun boat excursion. This time, you'll board the Grey III catamaran for a tour of Glacier Grey, which feeds the lake of the same name, Lago Grey. The boat travels across the lake and stops close to the glacier, which gives passengers a prime vantage point to snap photos of its massive ice walls. The Grey III then continues to the other side of the lake, where you'll disembark and make your way to the Bigfoot Basecamp to begin an epic ice hike.

This portion of the trip starts at Islatak Island with a hike up the glacial moraine. After an hour, you'll reach the ice, gear up, and learn the basics and safety protocols of glacier hikes from a pro. Equipped with an ice ax, crampons, helmet, and harness, you will then walk onto the Grey Glacier, where you will step over blue crevasses, hope over meltwater streams, pass alongside ice caves. It's truly a singular experience. 

Day 6: Torres del Paine - Trekking to the Base of the Towers

Base of Torres del Paine
Base of Torres del Paine

After breakfast, your excursion into the park will begin. Today you'll be heading up to the base of Torres del Paine on one of the most popular hiking routes in the park. Although it can be completed in less than a day, this hike is strenuous and requires a good level of physical fitness. However, the stunning views at the base of the Paine massif make it well worth the effort. 

The trekking route covers 18 km (11 miles) and lasts about nine hours. Every step of the way you will enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forest, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. You'll likely even spot some impressive local avian varieties, like condors and black eagles. 

Your route will begin at the Las Torres Hostel and will take you over the Ascencio River, at which point you'll ascend about 2.5 km to a lookout featuring panoramic views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. Then you'll continue through sections of lenga forest until the remaining 45-minute stretch, which is a steep ascent that involves a hard scramble over a moraine to the final path leading up to the viewpoint. 

This is the hardest portion of the hike, However, once you arrive at the lagoon at the base of the Paine Massif and stare up at the nearby Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) jutting into the sky, you'll likely forget all about your exhaustion. Upon arrival, you’ll have ample time to rest by the lagoon and marvel at the amazing rock formations as you enjoy a delicious picnic lunch.

Afterward, you'll begin the return trip back down the trail. The descent takes approximately four hours, at the end of which you'll arrive back to the hotel.

Day 7: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas & Departure

Say goodbye to Patagonia
Say goodbye to Patagonia

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

Map

Map of Punta Arenas & Torres del Paine National Park - 7 Days
Map of Punta Arenas & Torres del Paine National Park - 7 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated May 1, 2019