Immerse yourself in the unique landscapes and culture of Chile. Start your journey in Santiago and head to the Casablanca Valley to indulge in Chilean wine before traveling to the coastal city of Valparaíso to discover its beautiful murals and artsy vibe. Then, get an up-close look at a 150,000-strong penguin colony before heading to the famed Torres del Paine National Park to experience some of the best hiking trails and landscapes the region has to offer.

Highlights

  • Take a city tour of Santiago, and learn about modern Chilean culture
  • Explore the colorful coastal city of Valparaiso and indulge in wine tasting in the Casablanca Valley
  • Visit a penguin colony in the Patagonia
  • Trek through the famous Torres del Paine National Park
  • Visit the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and view Glacier Grey up close on a boat tour

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago City Tour Santiago
Day 3 Santiago to Valparaiso & Wine Tour Santiago
Day 4 Fly from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas Punta Arenas
Day 5 Isla Magdalena and Penguin Colony Punta Arenas
Day 6 Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers Torres del Paine
Day 7 Lake Pehoé and Lake Grey Torres del Paine
Day 8 Torres del Paine to Santiago & 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: Santiago City Tour

Santiago's bustling central market
Santiago's bustling central market

Like any great city, Santiago's cultural pulse is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. To that end, today you'll head out on a guided city tour. Depending on your preference, this will either be a full-day or half-day tour with an English-speaking guide. Regardless of which one you choose, you'll become an honorary Santiaguino!

Tour highlights:

  • Wander the aisles of Santiago's labyrinthine Mercado Central and Mercado La Vega. These markets are the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and local residents eager to get their hands on the day's fresh produce. 
  • Visit the Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.

  • Head to the glittering Costanera Center, an epic skyscraper encased in glass! For one of the best and certainly highest views in Latin America, go to the Sky viewpoint. At nearly 1,000 feet (304 m) high, the top offers 360-degree views of the city below, as well as the surrounding Andes.

  • Visit Cerro Santa Lucia, a small, manicured park in the center of Santiago. As you stroll up the hill, make sure to stop and see Fuente Neptuno and Castillo Hidalgo, two impressive structures located within the grounds. 

  • If you haven't done it yet, ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal via hike or cable car. Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.

Day 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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.

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

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: Lake Pehoé and Lake Grey

Take an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier
Take an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier

After breakfast in your hotel, you'll meet your guide and transfer by car to the western lakes of Torres del Paine. On the way, you’ll enjoy amazing views of the surrounding mountains and especially the Cuernos del Paine. You'll of course stop off at viewpoints along the way to relish the scenery and take copious pictures. Be sure to keep an eye out for the local wildlife, like guanacos, condors, and foxes.

You'll continue south towards the edge of Lake Pehoé, which affords sweeping views further south to Lake Toro. Then you'll head a short distance east to Lake Grey. Once there, you’ll enjoy a delicious picnic lunch on the shore rest up before embarking on an optional boat tour of Grey Glacier. On this trip, you will get close-up views of the 30-meter (98-foot) walls of this impressive ice mass in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. If you get lucky and keep an eye on the surrounding southern beech forests you may even spot some endangered Andean deer. 

After the boat trip, you will return to your hotel.

Day 8: Torres del Paine to Santiago & Departure

Goodbye, Torres del Paine
Goodbye, Torres del Paine

Today, you’ll take a private transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to the Punta Arenas airport. You'll then hop on a domestic flight to Santiago. From there you'll meet your connecting flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Santiago, Valparaíso & Patagonia Nature Trip - 8 Days
Map of Santiago, Valparaíso & Patagonia Nature Trip - 8 Days
Deborah
Published by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019