Conquer the highlights of Southern Chile on this 13-day adventure. After a quick stop to tour Santiago, hop a flight to Punta Arenas for your first glimpse of Patagonia. Then, visit penguins on Magdalena Island and enjoy a wildlife tour along the Straight of Magellan. Next, spend four days discovering the unparalleled beauty of Torres del Paine National Park along the W Trek, the famed Towers to the ice fields of Glacier Grey. The trip concludes with a kayaking excursion out of Pueblo Serrano—with more incredible glacial views along the way.

Highlights

  • Take in the views of romantic Santiago from atop Cerro San Cristóbal
  • Discover native wildlife along Magdalena Island and the Strait of Magellan
  • Hike through Torres del Paine and go ice walking along Glacier Grey
  • Embark on a two-day kayaking and camping trip from Pueblo Serrano

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago & City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Fly to Punta Arenas & Self-Guided Tour Punta Arenas
Day 3 Visit Penguins on Magdalena Island Punta Arenas
Day 4 Strait of Magellan Wildlife Excursion Punta Arenas
Day 5 Arrive in Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 6 Visit the Famous Towers - W Trek Day 1 Torres del Paine
Day 7 Hike Along Lake Nordenskjöld - W Trek Day 2 Torres del Paine
Day 8 Explore the French Valley - W Trek Day 3 Torres del Paine
Day 9 Admire Glacier Grey - W Trek Day 4 Torres del Paine
Day 10 Go Ice Hiking on Glacier Grey Torres del Paine
Day 11 Kayak From Pueblo Serrano to Puerto Toro Puerto Toro
Day 12 Visit Serrano Glacier & Estancia Perales Puerto Natales
Day 13 Depart From Santiago  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago and city tour

Take a cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal
Take a cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal

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.
  • Ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. Hop on a cable car to the top of this hill that sits high 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 here.

Day 2: Fly to Punta Arenas and self-guided tour

Punta Arenas
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 3: Visit penguins on Magdalena Island

Visit the penguins of Magdalena Island
Visit the penguins of Magdalena Island

After an early breakfast, make your way to the shore where you will board a ferry to Magdalena Island.  Spend 2 hours on the boat, crossing the Strait of Magellan, with opportunities to see many local species of birds and marine life.

Once you arrive on the island, witness thousands of penguins at their nesting sites. Each year, between 40,000 and 60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins choose this island as their nesting site. These numbers increase in January and February when the chicks hatch. Spend about an hour on the island, viewing the penguins at a close distance, before heading back to Punta Arenas.

Day 4: Strait of Magellan wildlife excursion

Spot Chilean dolphins in the Strait of Magellan
Spot Chilean dolphins in the Strait of Magellan

Today's 10-hour adventure will involve navigating the Strait of Magellan in a zodiac boat. 

The excursion begins at 7 am. A driver will pick you up and transport you 1 hour to the launch point. Enjoy breakfast and gear up in a semi-dry suit—which will provide comfortability during the trip. Throughout the day, enjoy snacks, as well as lunch, accompanied by nice Chilean wine. 

Be prepared for the adventure ahead. You may encounter rough seas, requiring you to hold tight to the side of the boat. Your guide will be involved every step of the way to ensure your safety. 

Visit the San Isidro area in search of the beautiful Austral dolphin, sometimes known as the Peale's dolphin. It is common to find groups of 12 swimming by the side of the boat or engaged in some acrobatic jumping. It is also possible to see some sea lion colonies, as well as a variety of sea birds, such as albatrosses and petrels,  and perhaps even some penguins. 

Following the tour, your private driver will transport you back to the hotel in Punta Arenas.

Day 5: Arrive in Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales

Catch a bus bound for Puerto Natales today. This trip will take about 3 hours, and along the way, take in your first glimpses of the Patagonian Pampa, as well as native wildlife.

Settle into your accommodation in Puerto Natales, and then head to the travel tour office for a briefing. Ask any last-minute questions and 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 the 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: Visit the famous Towers - W Trek Day 1

Mirador Base Torres
Mirador Base Torres

Today, begin your trekking experience. Early in the morning, depart on a bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. The trip to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga is approximately 2 hours. After registering with the park, start with a 1.5-hour ascent, complete with stunning views of the hanging glacier at Mount Almirante Nieto (8,750 feet) as well as the nearby lakes. Once you reach Refugio el Chileno, drop off your bags and take a quick break to refuel.

Next, hike for another hour past ancient lenga forests until you reach the moraine base. Brace the steeper, more challenging climb for 45 minutes, and once at the top, reward yourself with some of the park's best views from the Mirador Base Torres. Take in the towering peaks of Torre Sur, Central Tower, North Tower, Condor's Nest, and Glacier Torre, all set across the sweeping backdrop of the Patagonian Highlands.

Digest the views, and hike back down to Refugio Chileno to spend the evening.

Hiking Distance: 9.6 miles
Hike Duration: 6.5 hours

Day 7: Hike Along Lake Nordenskjöld - W Trek Day 2

Lake Nordenskjöld
Lake Nordenskjöld

After breakfast, it's time for another adventurous hike. Today, experience Lake Nordenskjöld up close. After leaving Refugio Chileno, embark on a brisk, 4-5-hour hike to Refugio Cuernos, an outpost located on the shore of Lake Nordenskjöld, at the foot of the Paine Massif.  

Along the way, hike along the base of Monte Almirante Nieto and traverse a few Patagonian rivers by hopping across the rocks. Every step of the way includes incredible Patagonia landscapes, in the form of jagged mountain peaks and glaciers, with glimpses of wild animals that reside in the region. Eventually, the lake and the peaks of Cuernos del Paine will come into view, signaling your destination. Spend the night here, in Refugio Cuernos.

Hiking Distance: 7 miles
Hike Duration: 4.5 hours

Day 8: Explore the French Valley - W Trek Day 3

Lake Pehoé
Lake Pehoé

The destination of today's hike is Campamento Italiano, a campsite located 2.5 hours away from Refugio Cuernos. To arrive there involves trekking along the windy shores of Lago Nordenskjöld. Once you arrive at Campamento Italiano, leave your heavy gear and continue the trek towards the French Valley, a rocky section of flatland cradled at the base of granite peaks.

Hike another couple of hours through a forest before finally emerging into the valley, and all the incredible scenery will come into view. From a lookout point, enjoy spectacular views of lakes Nordenskjöld, Skottsberg, and Pehoé behind you, as well as the hanging French Glacier ahead. After leaving the lookout, return to gather your large pack, and continue another 2.5 hours to Refugio Paine Grande, on the shore of Lake Pehoé, for your overnight stay. 

Hiking Distance: 10.7 miles
Hiking Duration: 7 hours

Day 9: Admire Glacier Grey - W Trek Day 4

Glacier Grey
Glacier Grey

After a fortifying breakfast, embark on a hike through a small forest to Lago Grey, a lake fed by one of the star landmarks of Torres del Paine: Glacier Grey. At 104 square miles, this glacial mass comprises a sizeable portion of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. After about two hours of hiking, get your first glimpse of its jagged ice walls, at which point, continue hiking 2 more hours along the lakeshore until you arrive at Refugio Grey (fair warning, most days this section of the park is very windy) to spend the night.

Hiking Distance: 6.8 miles
Hike Duration: 4 hours

Day 10: Go Ice Hiking on Glacier Grey

Go ice hiking across Glacier Grey
Go ice hiking across Glacier Grey

In the morning, after an energizing breakfast, make your way to the Bigfoot Basecamp to begin your ice hiking excursion.

First, take a boat out to Islatak Island to begin a 1-hour hike up the glacial moraine. After an hour of hiking, reach the ice, gear up, and learn about the basics of ice hiking. Prepared with an ice axe, crampons, a helmet, and a harness, start your adventure, which includes walking for around 2.5 hours onto Glacier Grey to observe cracks, rivers, lagoons, and tunnels. Following your hike, return to the boat and back to the basecamp.

Then, board the Grey III, a double-decker catamaran, which will bring you up close and personal with Glacier Grey for some stunning photographs. Stay the night in the beautiful Hotel Lago Grey for a bit of luxury tonight.

Day 11: Kayaking Trip From Pueblo Serrano to Puerto Toro

Paddle from Pueblo Serrano to Puerto Toro
Paddle from Pueblo Serrano to Puerto Toro

A driver will pick you up early in the morning from Hotel Lago Grey and transport you to Pueblo Serrano.

After loading the kayaks and going through a safety check, the adventure begins. Start by paddling to Salto del Rio, an impressive waterfall, which requires carrying the kayaks around the falls. Then, continue paddling along the mighty river, toward Serrano Glacier. Stop for lunch with spectacular views of Tyndall Glacier and the Geike Mountains. After lunch, slowly make your way closer to Mount Balmaceda, where the river joins with the waters of the Ultima Esperanza Fjord

Spend the night camping at Puerto Toro, and enjoy a delicious dinner in the wild Patagonian forest.

Day 12: Visit Serrano Glacier & Estancia Perales

Take in the incredible glacial views via kayak
Take in the incredible glacial views via kayak

After an early breakfast, carry your kayak about 100 feet to Serrano Lagoon, where the Serrano Glacier ends. Spend the morning paddling alongside the blue icebergs that have broken off from the glacier. At midday, embark on a larger boat that will take you back to Puerto Natales, through the Ultima Esperanza Fjord.

During this journey, enjoy the incredible views of the Balmaceda Glacier, before stopping at Estancia Perales for a traditional meal of Patagonian roasted lamb. Then, arrive back to Puerto Natales around 6 pm, and a driver will take you back to your accommodation.

Enjoy your final night in Patagonia at your leisure.

Day 13: Depart from Santiago

Farewell, Chile!
Farewell, Chile!

Today, look back on all of the memories made on your Patagonian adventure. Depending on your flight time, first, take a bus from Puerto Natales back to Punta Arenas. Then, catch your flight back to Santiago, followed by your onward flight home. Safe Travels!

Map

Map of Southern Chile: Patagonian W Trek, Wildlife, & Wilderness Adventure - 13 Days
Map of Southern Chile: Patagonian W Trek, Wildlife, & Wilderness Adventure - 13 Days