On this itinerary, you'll get to experience the many different faces of Chile. You'll have the opportunity to explore Chile's culturally-rich cities, taste premium Chilean wine, and take in some of the country's most stunning landscapes. First, tour Santiago along with the colorful coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. Next, explore the world-famous wine regions surrounding Santiago - you'll learn all about how Chilean wine is made, and more importantly, how it tastes. Then it's off to the north and the otherworldly desert landscapes of Atacama. You'll visit geysers, lunar valleys, and even do some high-altitude stargazing. Finally, you'll head to Chile's unspoiled Patagonia region, where you'll visit one of the most unique sites on the continent: the marble caves of Lago General Carrera.

Highlights

  • Take an immersive city tour of Santiago de Chile
  • Stroll the colorful streets of coastal Valparaiso & Viña del Mar
  • Tour the Atacama Desert and visit lagoons and geysers
  • Visit Chilean Patagonia, Lago General Carrera, and the famed Marble Caves

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour Santiago
Day 3 Maipo Valley Wine Tour Santiago
Day 4 Casablanca Valley and Wine Tour Santiago
Day 5 Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour - Lagoons and Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 7 San Pedro De Atacama - Moon Valley Tour & Half Day Astronomic Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 8 Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 9 San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & Transfer to Balmaceda Balmaceda
Day 10 Marble Caves Full-Day Tour Balmaceda
Day 11 Balmaceda to Santiago & Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city
Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city

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, the most magnificent viewpoint in Santiago. When visiting any new city it's a good idea to get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 850 meters (2,788 feet) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. Enjoy the reconnoitering, and if you aren't the hiking type not to worry: you can catch a scenic gondola to the top.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Brightly painted old houses adorned with graffiti art sit alongside modern shopping complexes featuring an eclectic array of eateries and bars. It's a great place to come for dinner out, a glass or two of Chilean red, and people watching from a patio table. 

  • Visit the Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. There's a lot of history within the four corners of this expansive stone plaza, as it was founded all the way back in 1541. Also here is the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and 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 just a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas, and like the plaza, it's filled with history. 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. Today the country is under democratic rule, and visitors are welcome to visit the palace. 

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: Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour

Colorful Valparaiso
Colorful Valparaiso

After breakfast, you will depart from your hotel bound for the historic Chilean coastal city of Valparaiso. This is a special treat because Valparaiso is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's also the most romantic and artistic city in the country. 

But that's not all. En route you will stop at an organic winery in the Casablanca Valley for a guided tour and tasting. The owners of the Emiliana Winery pride themselves on their all-natural approach to growing grapes, which utilizes the combined efforts of plants and livestock to help fertilize the crops. You'll tour the vineyard and the production facilities and then taste four different wines paired with local cheeses and chocolates. 

Shortly after the tour, you'll arrive in Valparaiso. This colorful, well-preserved seaport is 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. The tour of Valparaiso begins at the port, where you'll travel by trolley between Plaza Sotomayor and Plaza Aníbal Pinto. Then it's time to hop in the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top, where you'll be greeted with panoramic views of the city.

You'll then wander the high streets through hilly neighborhoods like Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. This is the best way to get to know Valparaiso, as there's nothing quite like strolling among the brightly painted houses, old churches, and cobbled squares that comprise this city. And no matter where you happen to be, you can always find sweeping views of the Pacific coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Valparaiso is like San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss.   

After the tour, you can enjoy an optional lunch in a local restaurant (try the seafood; it's some of the best in South America). Then it's time to hop back in the minivan, transfer back to Santiago, and return to your hotel.

Tour Duration: Full day

Day 3: Maipo Valley Wine Tour

Grapes on the vine
Grapes on the vine

The Valle de Maipo (Maipo Valley) is another rich wine-producing region in central Chile. The great thing about this one is that it's located the shortest distance from the capital. So in the morning, you'll depart from your hotel on a journey of just a few minutes to this hotbed of viniculture.

This day's tour covers the history of wine and the almost magical art that goes into its production. The scenery adds to the experience as you find yourself amid the fertile green valley and imposing Andes Mountains. You will visit two prestigious vineyards here, with options including the Viña Cousiño MaculViña Undurraga, and others.

Whichever vineyards you tour, you can rest assured you'll be tasting the best Maipo wines featuring unique bouquets and flavor profiles. The tour to both wineries covers every aspect of production, from the grape to the bottle. You'll also have the opportunity to pair the wines you sample with tasty tidbits like fine cheeses. Finally, in the afternoon you will return to your hotel in Santiago.

Day 4: Casablanca Valley and Wine Tour

Vineyard in the Casablanca Valley
Vineyard in the Casablanca Valley

After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel in Santiago, a driver will meet you for a trip about an hour west to the Casablanca Valley. This wine region of Chile is famous for producing white grapes that through a meticulous viniculture process become amazing Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.

On the way, you'll pass by the coastal communities of Santo Domingo Beach and San Antonio, the latter of which is South America's busiest port. Eventually, you'll arrive in the small village of Lo Abarca where the boutique winery Casa Marin is located. You'll take a tour of the grounds and cap off the excursion with a tasting of premium wines. Later in the afternoon, you'll return to Santiago.

Day 5: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama

Valley of the Moon, Chile
Valley of the Moon, Chile

After breakfast, you'll transfer by private car to the airport, where you’ll catch a flight to the city of Calama, in northern Chile. Upon arrival, another driver will meet you for the hour-and-20-minute drive to the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the embarkation point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.

During the journey between these two places, you will see some of the most evocative and ancient landscapes anywhere in the world. This high-altitude desert abounds with seemingly endless salt flats, painted hills that change color depending on the light, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, whose flaming red mountains form the base of the Valley of the Moon.

Upon arrival at San Pedro de Atacama, you will check into your hotel and have the remainder of the day to enjoy the town however you see fit. The good news is that even if you're tired there's no need to worry—San Pedro is so small you can walk around the entire town in about 15 minutes.

Some recommended activities in San Pedro de Atacama include:

  • Visit the Church of San Pedro de Atacama. This little white-washed chapel in the center of town boasts a lot of history. Dating back to 1540, it's the nation's second-oldest church. Inside you'll find a three-tiered baroque altar, which is the only one of its kind in Chile. 

  • Tour the town. San Pedro is notable for its abundance of adobe homes and businesses. It's unique in Chile in that there is quite a bit of pre-Spanish indigenous influence. Just strolling the dusty streets you get a sense of the pre-Hispanic Atacameño culture that once thrived here. Today you'll find many souvenir shops selling basketworks, ceramic pottery, and artisan crafts.

  • Dine out in San Pedro. There isn't much to do in the town of San Pedro except plan your excursions and eat out. Luckily the town has plenty of restaurants to cater to every taste, from funky cafés and vegetarian diners to Chilean steakhouses, Italian pizzerias, Mediterranean restaurants, and pan-Asian-inspired eateries.

Day 6: Full-Day Atacama Desert Tour - Lagoons and Salt Flats

Laguna Chaxa
Laguna Chaxa

Today you'll embark on a full-day excursion into the Atacama Desert. After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at the hotel and you'll head out to the first destination: Laguna Chaxa. Located 50 km (31 miles) from San Pedro sits this desert oasis in the middle of the Atacama Salar salt flats. Also here is the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Even from afar you'll be able to spot the Chilean flamingos that call this reserve home as their pink feathers shine brightly against the contrasting blue of the shallow water.

At lunchtime, the tour will stop in Socaire, a humble agricultural village famous for its simple adobe homes, rustic chapel, and slow pace of life. After eating, the tour will continue towards the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, which are located at a whopping 4,200 meters (13,779 feet) in elevation. You might feel a bit lightheaded, so try not to exert yourself and be sure to drink plenty of water. Enjoy the panoramic views of an altiplano desert surrounded by towering volcanoes and abounding with wildlife like flamencos, foxes, and vicunas.

The last stop on the tour is a visit to the town of Toconao, an oasis with a climate ideal for the cultivation of native fruits and vegetables. You'll stroll the streets, shop for handicrafts, and admire local homes cobbled together out of volcanic rocks. You'll also visit the white-washed church with its famous three-storied belltower. The church itself dates back to 1750 and has been declared a national monument. 

Finally, at around 6 pm, you'll return to your hotel and can enjoy the rest of the evening in town. Note that the day's itinerary may vary according to weather and road conditions

Day 7: San Pedro De Atacama - Moon Valley Tour & Half Day Astronomic Tour

Las Tres Marias Rock Formation
Las Tres Marias Rock Formation

Today you'll enjoy two amazing tours that showcase the best that San Pedro de Atacama has to offer. Start your day with a tour of the highlights of the iconic Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna). In the evening, take advantage of the clear desert skies for a breathtaking stargazing expedition. 
 
Moon Valley Tour

Today is your opportunity to visit the amazing geological shapes located in one of the world’s driest and most hostile zones of the world: the Atacama Desert. Visit the salt caves, surprising shapes in the middle of the salt mountain range, and discover the unique forms of salt and clay in the “Three Marias" (Las Tres Marias) area. Appreciate the great molding power of the natural forces of our planet and be amazed at the delicate work of nature over thousands of years. The highlight of your adventure will be waiting for the Atacama sunset, opening your senses to the breathtaking landscapes and colors of the mountains, with the Licancabur Volcano looming overhead. Don't forget to bring your camera!

Half Day Astronomic Tour

The Atacama Desert skies at night are some of the best for star-gazing. The particular height, dryness and little luminosity of the desert transform it in a perfectly set stage to gaze at constellations, stars, planets, and galaxies. Don't miss a visit to the world-renowned Ahlarkapin observatory, named after the word for "bright star" in the Kunza language, spoken by the Lickan-antay people of the Atacama desert of northern Chile and southern Peru. 

Journey through time with a presentation at Ahlarkapin that integrates a modern scientific point of view with the Andean worldview,  and spend time looking at the skies with the naked eye followed with an observation of different celestial bodies in one of the biggest private telescopes of the area. You will be lead on an unforgettable trip of the southern sky through the ancient ancestral knowledge that still deciphers the movements of the cosmos contrasted with the precision of modern telescopes.

Day 8: Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village

Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers
Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers

Today's an early start as you'll depart the hotel at 4:30 am for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends, though, as seeing the sun rise over the Atacama Desert is a singular experience. Also, sunrise is the best time to visit Tatio. The contrast between the cold outside temperatures and the boiling water of the geothermal field beneath the earth's surface causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 10 meters (30 feet). 

At an altitude of 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. So take your time and admire these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and at the appropriate hour breakfast will be served on site. Another option is to take a relaxing soak in a natural geothermal pool—mother nature's jacuzzi.

On the return drive to San Pedro, you'll stop at Machuca, a small, humble village on the Altiplano whose residents have bred llamas and harvested Yareta (moss-like evergreen plants that can survive for thousands of years) for generations. It's a small but welcoming town, comprised of only about 20 homes and a simple chapel. That said, some locals sell crafts, and you can admire the llamas in the area as well as the flamingos that reside in nearby marshlands.

You'll then return to San Pedro for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.

Day 9: San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & Transfer to Balmaceda

Say goodbye to the Atacama Desert
Say goodbye to the Atacama Desert

In the morning you'll transfer one hour from San Pedro to the airport in Calama for your flight to Balmaceda via Santiago. You've now gone from one extreme to the other, from the arid deserts of Northern Chile to the untamed nature of Chilean Patagonia. Balmaceda itself is tiny, a little village of merely 500 people. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and check-in. Upon arrival, you'll have the remainder of the day to relax and explore.

Day 10: Marble Caves Full-Day Tour

The Capillas de Mármol (marble caves)
The Capillas de Mármol (marble caves)

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and you'll ride south about four hours to Puerto Río Tranquilo, a town located on General Carrera Lake. The drive down may be long, 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.

Later in the day, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 11: Balmaceda to Santiago & Departure

Goodbye, Patagonia!
Goodbye, Patagonia!

It's been quite the adventure, but as the old saying goes, all good things must end. At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Santiago and meet your connecting flight home.

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019