This exciting 12-day itinerary explores key highlights of Patagonia (in both countries) at a relaxed pace. After a day in Chile's capital, fly south to Puerto Natales, a port city that acts as the jumping on/off point for Torres del Paine—one of the most famous national parks in the world. Here, you'll hike and stay two nights at a luxury eco-camp before crossing the border for the best glaciers in Argentina.

Highlights

  • Spend a day wandering around Santiago's cobblestone streets
  • Take part in a traditional Patagonian barbecue lunch at a working ranch
  • Enjoy a serene kayaking trip that visits a number of historic locations
  • Stay in a luxury camp in Torres del Paine for gourmet food and wine
  • Get close to Argentina's most awe-inspiring glaciers by boat

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas - Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 3 Day-Trip to a Patagonian Estancia Puerto Natales
Day 4 Kayaking in Eberhard Fjord Puerto Natales
Days 5-6 Luxury Camp Experience in Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Day 7 Torres del Paine to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 8 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 9 Estancia Cristina Excursion El Calafate
Day 10 El Calafate Free Day El Calafate
Day 11 El Calafate to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 12 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 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 3: Day-Trip to a Patagonian Estancia

Horseback riding in Patagonia
Horseback riding in Patagonia

After breakfast at your hotel in Puerto Natales, you'll visit the beautiful Estancia La Peninsula. This full-day tour is the perfect way to learn about daily life at a working Patagonian ranch.

The adventure starts with a 30-minute boat ride through the fjords before arriving at the ranch for a welcome pastry and cup of coffee. From here, you will have the chance to choose between a variety of activities such as horseback riding, hiking, or taking a land tour in a 4x4 vehicle. You'll then enjoy a traditional barbecue followed by a demonstration of sheep shearing and wool classification. You will also have a chance to meet the estancia's resident sheepdogs.

At the end of the tour, return by boat to Puerto Natales where you will have the rest of the evening to enjoy at leisure.

Day 4: Kayaking in Eberhard Fjord

Kayaking in Patagonia
Kayaking in Patagonia

After breakfast, get ready to paddle near the scenic coast of Puerto Natales! From the hotel, it's a 20-minute drive to Estancia Puerto Consuelo, a working family-owned ranch on the shores of the Eberhard Fjord. There's a lot of history here, as Puerto Consuelo was built by German immigrants at the end of the 19th century.  This will be our base camp for today's kayaking excursion.

The kayak trip includes visits to a number of historic locations along Eberhard Fjord, such as the settlement of Puerto Prat, founded in 1899, and Krugger Island, known as the “Island of the Dead”, which was once used as a cemetery to bury the first settlers. During this excursion, it's common to see a variety of birds, such as Andean condors, Chilean flamingos and black-necked swans.

At the end of the excursion, you'll return to Puerto Natales.

Days 5-6: Luxury Camp Experience in Torres del Paine

Stay in a private yurt with a view
Stay in a private yurt with a view

After breakfast in Puerto Natales, it's time to transfer to the eco-friendly and all-inclusive Patagonia Camp inside Torres del Paine National Park. Keep your camera close as you're likely to spot some of the local fauna, including many species of birds as well as the guanaco, a wild camelid related to the llama. 

Once you arrive at camp—said to be the 1st luxury camp in South America—get ready to spend the next two days in a private yurt*. Once you check in, you'll have the rest of the day to relax and explore the scenery at your leisure. The property is located on the shores of Lake Toro, the largest lake in the Magallanes region of Chile with stunning views of the Macizo del Paine

Each day of your stay there will be excursion options for you to embark on, including different hikes and activities ranging in difficulty depending on your preference. In addition to a plethora of trails that lead to mountain views and waterfalls, you'll have the option to go stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, bird watching, or glacier cruising. Whether by foot, boat, horse, or vehicle, excursions are packed with adventure and interesting information about the park’s flora, fauna, geology, and history. 

All meals are served at the camp's restaurant—a warm and inviting space that features large windows overlooking the lake and mountains beyond. For dinner, cocktails and wine accompany some of Patagonia’s finest cuisine options including salmon, king crab, lamb, and produce from the local gardens. 

*Subject to availability

Day 7: Torres del Paine to El Calafate

The "horns of Paine," at Torres del Paine
The "horns of Paine," at Torres del Paine

Today, you will transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales where you'll catch the 3.5-hour bus north to El Calafate, Argentina.

Upon arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing, or venture out and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. If you haven't done so yet, prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multi-media center has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice—a great stop before dinner in town.

Day 8: Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour

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

Today, 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 9: Estancia Cristina Excursion

Spegazzini Glacier
Spegazzini Glacier

There's more activity in store for you today. Starting early, a driver will pick you and other passengers up from your respective hotels and transfer you 28 miles (45 km) to the port at Punta Bandera, on Lago Argentino. The drive along this route is scenic and pleasant, affording sweeping views of the Patagonian countryside and the charming wooden houses that intermittently dot the landscape. 

Having reached the port, you'll board a modern ferry and embark on a journey on the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. As you reach the northern section you'll see the western front of the Spegazzini Glacier. At over 10 miles long and a mile wide, the length, breadth, and towering ice walls that define this ancient glacier are awe-inspiring. 

After taking the time to admire Spegazzini, you will continue sailing north and into the Cristina Channel. At the far end of this channel is the disembarking point for Estancia Cristina. Expect to arrive late morning. 

Estancia Cristina is one of the most impressive ranch-style lodges in the region. It was founded in 1914 by pioneers and built on a valley once covered by the Upsala Glacier. A visit to the Folkloric Museum here (located in an old sheep-shearing shed), offers insight into the history of the estancia. The surrounding scenery is nothing to scoff at either—all around are impressive panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. 

All told you will stay here about six hours. After the museum, you'll embark on a 6-mile (9.5 km) journey by 4x4 over an unpaved road that ascends into the mountains. After reaching the Continental Ice Field Refuge, you will exit the vehicle and begin a 20-minute walk featuring views of glacial landscapes and Andes mountains until you reach the Upsala viewpoint. Here you will have an unobstructed view of the eastern face of the Upsala Glacier as well as Lake Guillermo and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. 

In the late afternoon, you will board the boat again and begin the return to Punta Bandera. After landing, you will transfer back to your hotel.

Day 10: El Calafate Free Day

One option for today: a kayaking tour
One option for today: a kayaking tour

Today, you'll have a relaxing (or not so relaxing) free day to arrange a spa treatment at a nearby resort, or venture out and discover more adventures in and around El Calafate. Perhaps, you'd like to explore more glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, go horseback riding on a nearby ranch, or join a kayaking tour. 

For a break from the glaciers, you can also take a short 15-minute walk from El Calafate to an ecological reserve called Laguna Nimez. The protected area is a haven for a great variety of birds including the Chilean flamingo, and there is a self-guided boardwalk which takes visitors around the whole reserve. 

Another museum option (besides the Glaciarium) is the town's history museum: Centro de Interpretación Histórica. It covers the history of Patagonia since the ice age, including useful information on glaciers, as well as dinosaurs, extinct animals, indigenous peoples, and the formation of other geographical landscapes. 

Day 11: El Calafate to Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales has a colorful waterfront
Puerto Natales has a colorful waterfront

After breakfast in El Calafate, it's time to make your way into Chilean Patagonia from Argentina. This involves hopping on a southbound bus headed for the Chilean town of Puerto Natales. The journey can take upwards of five hours depending on traffic conditions at the Argentina/Chile border.

Puerto Natales is the principal base for excursions into Torres del Paine National Park. Upon arrival, you'll notice a stark contrast between this town and El Calafate/El Chaltén. This coastal hamlet is far less touristic (even in the peak summer months) and retains its air of small-town tranquility practically year-round. 

The best activities in Puerto Natales also happen to be the mildest. The town offers simple pleasures, like strolling the waterfront promenade. It sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound, which affords views northward to the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and it looks phenomenal at sunset. You can also get out and meander among the brightly painted residential houses with their corrugated tin roofs.

Day 12: 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 Relaxing Adventure in Patagonia - 12 Days
Map of Relaxing Adventure in Patagonia - 12 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019