- Tour the landmarks and markets of Santiago, the capital city
- Explore the colorful neighboring cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
- Embark on an excursion in the beautiful mountainous region of the Maipo Valley
- Tour the Patagonian highlights of Torres del Paine National Park
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago and City Tour||Santiago|
|Day 2||Viña del Mar and Valparaíso Excursion||Santiago|
|Day 3||Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour||Santiago|
|Day 4||Fly From Santiago to Punta Arenas||Punta Arenas|
|Day 5||Visit Magdalena Island and Travel to Puerto Natales||Puerto Natales|
|Day 6||Hike to the Base of the Paine Massif||Torres del Paine|
|Day 7||Torres del Paine Tour||Torres del Paine|
|Day 8||Glacier Grey Boat Tour||Puerto Natales|
|Day 9||Depart From Santiago|
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago and City Tour
Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. Once settled, get out and experience the pulse of this Latin American metropolis on a guided, half-day tour. Like any great city, that pulse is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine.
Highlights of the tour include:
- Wandering 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. With the assistance of an English-speaking guide, engage with these vendors and shoppers, learning about their daily routines, while getting the inside track on the most delicious ingredients to try.
- A visit to 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. Nearby sits the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church circa 1748, with towering twin bell towers dominating the north side of the plaza.
- Ascending Cerro San Cristóbal. Hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits 984 feet above the city. Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.
- Enjoy dinner in the fashionably bohemian enclave of Barrio Bellavista. This is the trendiest neighborhood in the city. Find a diverse array of funky cafés, international eateries, and high-end restaurants.
Day 2: Viña del Mar and Valparaíso Excursion
Today, leave the capital on an excursion to central Chile's Pacific Coast. Visit two neighboring cities: Viña del Mar and Valparaíso.
First, arrive in Viña del Mar, an upscale coastal resort city teeming with shopping complexes, commercial high-rises, boutiques, and well-manicured gardens. The city's modern image is the result of reconstruction efforts following the numerous earthquakes the Chilean coast has endured over the years. However, there are still 20th-century landmarks, like the Germanic Wulff Castle and the Venetian-Gothic Vergara Palace, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. The city is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside lunch at one of the many upscale restaurants on the shore.
Next, visit the port city of Valparaíso, located adjacent to Viña del Mar. This colorful metropolis is the artistic and bohemian soul of the country. It's filled with street art, music, and poetry. Moreover, it's 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.
Start exploring Valparaíso by visiting the old plazas of Sotomayor and Aníbal Pinto. Then, ride the Reina Victoria funicular and ascend to the top. From here, wander the hilly neighborhoods of Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida. On the last hill, find La Sebastiana, a museum that was once the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
No matter where you go, you can always find sweeping views looking out over the colorful houses to the Pacific Coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. Some liken Valparaíso to San Francisco reimagined by Dr. Seuss.
Following the exploration, head to the minivan to transfer back to Santiago, and return to your hotel.
Day 3: Maipo Valley Full-Day Tour
Today, experience more of Chile's famous natural beauty with a visit to Cajón del Maipu. After breakfast, embark on a 45-minute road trip southeast of Santiago to this popular gorge. First, arrive in the fertile San José de Maipo region, with its hills and vineyards. Then, it's an ascent into the mountains, where the landscapes become even more dramatic as massifs and snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline. Take in the sparkling rivers and streams that wind through this paradise.
After reaching 9,843 feet above sea level, exit the vehicle at the shores of the Embalse de Yeso, a reservoir nestled in the Andes with a glassy surface that shines bright-turquoise. Enjoy the landscape and snap photos of the panoramic vistas. Walk around the shore as your expert guide offers insight into the geology of the area, as well as the history of the reservoir, a result of damming the Yeso River back in 1964.
For lunch, take a seat near the water and enjoy a picnic, accompanied by a selection of top Chilean wines. Afterward, return to San José de Maipo and stop in at a local restaurant to try a traditional snack—the Chilean empanada.
Transfer back to your hotel in Santiago, and enjoy the evening on your own.
Day 4: Fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas
After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport to catch your flight to Punta Arenas. Upon arrival at this small Patagonian city, 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 street lamps and a statue of Magellan sits in the center), the surrounding architecture is impressive, as well. All around the plaza, there are 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.
- Visit the Reserva Nacional Magallanes. If you're interested in an active excursion just outside the city, head a few miles 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. Seafood is a staple, so sample some local specialties, like chupe de centolla (souffle of king crab), as well as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.
Day 5: Visit Magdalena Island and travel to Puerto Natales
This half-day tour begins bright and early in the morning. Transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan. Then, board a vessel that will take you 18 miles northeast to Magdalena Island. 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. However, these aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost. Scout a number of seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.
Upon arrival at Magdalena Island, disembark and spend 1 hour onshore. Follow a 2,624-foot path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, enjoy the company of the island's residents: a Magellanic penguin colony that can reach up to 170,000 inhabitants. There's no experience on earth quite like hiking alongside penguins near Patagonian waters first mapped by Magellan and then made famous by Charles Darwin.
Afterward, it's time to return to the vessel and make the journey back, reaching Punta Arenas by midday.
In the afternoon, travel by bus to Puerto Natales. This trip will take about 3 hours, and along the way, relish your first glimpses of the Patagonian Pampa. Keep an eye out for local wildlife, as well.
Upon arrival to Puerto Natales, settle into your accommodation and then visit your tour representative for a trip briefing. Ask any last-minute questions, as well as pick up all of your tickets and vouchers for the next few days' adventures.
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 small-town tranquility.
Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north, spot the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro—the view is phenomenal at sunset. After the stroll, check out one of the numerous restaurant options in town for dinner.
Day 6: Hike to the base of the Paine massif
After breakfast, head up to the base of the Torres del Paine towers 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 11 miles and lasts about 9 hours. Every step of the way, enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forests, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. Keep a close watch for local bird species, like condors and black eagles.
Your route begins at the Las Torres Hostel and will take you over the Ascencio River, at which point it is time to ascend about 1.5 miles to a lookout featuring panoramic views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. Then, 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, any exhaustion will likely dissipate. Upon arrival, rest by the lagoon and take in the amazing rock formations as you enjoy a delicious picnic lunch.
Afterward, begin the return trip back down the trail. The descent takes approximately 4 hours before reaching the hotel.
Day 7: Torres del Paine Tour
In the morning, transfer from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park. The total distance is 70 miles, and the drive takes about 2 hours, with a short stop at Cerro Castillo Village. The scenery along the way is incredible, with glimpses of Torres del Paine's massive peaks, as well as some of the local fauna, like guanacos.
Arrive at the Laguna Amarga main entrance and register yourself with the park office. Then it's a quick shuttle ride to the Las Torres sector for check-in, and to leave your heavier bags here before trekking up the mountain.
From here, hike up Mt. Almirante Nieto, which features stunning views of the Asencio Valley below and Lake Nordenskjold. After two hours of hiking, reach Refugio Chileno, a great place for lunch or a rest.
It's another hour of hiking past ancient lenga forests until you arrive at a moraine. The next part is a challenging, steep ascent for 45 minutes until you reach the top, which is known as Mirador Base Torres. "Mirador" in English means "viewpoint," and this little section of the mountain is the best view in the park. From here, take in the collection of towering peaks of nearby Torre Sur, Central Tower, North Tower, Condor's Nest, and Glacier Torre—all set amidst the sweeping backdrop of the Patagonian highlands.
Distance: 11.2 Miles
Duration: 8 Hours
Day 8: Glacier Grey Boat Tour
This morning, transfer to the Grey sector of the park to 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, providing a prime vantage point to snap photos of its massive ice walls.
Upon your return, take a short hike across the windswept beach and through the forest before reaching your hotel. You will have the afternoon to either relax or hike the nearby Mirador Ferrier, which boasts great views of the park's colored lakes.
In the evening, transfer via bus back to Puerto Natales to spend the night.
Day 9: Depart From Santiago
Today, look back on all of the memories made on your Patagonian adventure. Take the bus from Puerto Natales back to the Punta Arenas Airport (PUQ) for your flight. Upon arrival in Santiago, continue to your onward destination.