- Tour the highlights of Chile's capital city
- Visit a penguin colony in Punta Arenas
- Go horseback riding on the Strait of Magellan
- Hike to incredible viewpoints in Torres del Paine
- Take a boat tour of Patagonian glaciers
|Day 1||Arrive in Santiago||Santiago|
|Day 2||Fly to Punta Arenas, Optional Activities||Punta Arenas|
|Day 3||Visit the Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony||Punta Arenas|
|Day 4||Horseback Riding on the Strait of Magellan||Punta Arenas|
|Day 5||Transfer to Puerto Natales, Optional Activities||Puerto Natales|
|Day 6||Guided Hike to Base Torres||Puerto Natales|
|Day 7||Full-Day Torres del Paine Tour||Puerto Natales|
|Day 8||Boat Tour to Bernardo O'Higgins National Park & Glaciers||Puerto Natales|
|Day 9||Fly to Santiago & Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Santiago
Welcome to Chile! This country occupies a long and scenic slice of the west coast of South America. It boasts a rich history that spans the ancient Indigenous era, Spanish colonialism, and the political tumult and eventual prosperity that defined the 20th century. You'll arrive in the capital of Santiago, a massive metropolis cradled amid the snowcapped peaks of the Andes mountains. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel, and you'll have the rest of the day free.
If you like, head out and stretch your legs on a self-guided tour. You can snap photos 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, the city's main square. It's home to the Palacio de la Real Audiencia (Palace of the Royal Court), built in 1808, which houses the National History Museum of Chile. Also on the plaza is the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, an impressive neoclassical building with twin bell towers that dates back to 1753.
For panoramic views, hike (or ride a gondola) up Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill that rises 984 feet (300 m) over the city. Another great lookout is at Cerro Santa Lucia, a lovely park and remnant of an ancient volcano. Conquistadores used it as a lookout in the 16th century, and it was here that Pedro de Valdivia officially founded Santiago in 1541. For a local experience, head to Mercado Central, a large municipal market with many restaurants and vendors selling fresh fish and seafood. Later, you can grab dinner at one of the cool eateries in Santiago's bohemian Bellavista neighborhood.
Day 2: Fly to Punta Arenas, Optional Activities
In the morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport in Santiago, where you'll catch a 3.5-hour flight south to Punta Arenas. This major transport hub is located 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.
Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel. Then, if you like, you can spend the rest of the day exploring. The perfect starting point for a walk around town is the Plaza Muñoz Guerrero. 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), it's surrounded by grand neoclassical mansions once owned by the monied sheep-ranching families of the 19th century.
If you like, 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 see your first Patagonian sunset. Later, enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants in town. 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 the Isla Magdalena Penguin Colony
This half-day tour begins bright and early. You'll transfer from downtown Punta Arenas by vehicle to a pier on the Strait of Magellan, then board a boat that will take you 18 miles (30 km) northeast to Isla Magdalena. On this island is Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, a protected area home to Chile's largest colony of Magellanic penguins (over 100,000 of them).
First, though, you'll travel to Isla Marta. Located in the middle of the strait, it's home to a large colony of Patagonian sea lions whose numbers top a thousand. These aren't the only residents on this rocky outpost—you'll also find several seabirds, which include cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.
Eventually, you'll arrive at Isla Magdalena, where you'll disembark and spend one hour onshore. During this time, you'll follow a 2,624-foot (800 m) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. On your way, you'll enjoy the company of the island's penguin residents. There's no experience on earth like hiking alongside these waddling birds amid Patagonian waters that Magellan first mapped and later made famous by Charles Darwin. Afterward, it's time to return to the boat and return to Punta Arenas.
Day 4: Horseback Riding on the Strait of Magellan
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for a quick 16-mile (27 km) drive south of Punta Arenas to a working estancia (country ranch). The family who lives here breeds horses, and on this half-day tour, you'll do some horseback riding around wild Patagonian landscapes.
After meeting your horse, you'll mount up and embark on a trail that runs along the Strait of Magellan through native lenga forest. During this scenic ride, you'll observe exotic flora and fauna, including native birds, foxes, and rabbits. Eventually, you'll arrive at a stunning viewpoint overlooking the strait and all the way to the snowcapped mountains of the Darwin range. At the end of the ride, you'll transfer back to Punta Arenas and have the rest of the day free.
Day 5: Transfer to Puerto Natales, Optional Activities
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After breakfast, you'll hop on a bus for the three-hour drive north to Puerto Natales. This small port city is famous as the base for excursions into the legendary Torres del Paine National Park. It's less touristic than other Patagonian hubs and has an air of small-town tranquility. Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up and take you to your hotel.
After checking in and receiving a trip briefing from the tour company, you'll have the rest of the day free. Simple pleasures in Puerto Natales include strolling the promenade fronting the silver waters of the Seno Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound). In the distance, you'll see the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and the sunset views are phenomenal.
Day 6: Guided Hike to Base Torres
Wake up early and meet your guide and driver for the ride from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park. The total distance is 70 miles (112 km), and the scenery along the way is incredible, as you'll get your first glimpse of Torres del Paine's massive peaks. You'll also spot some exotic local wildlife, like guanacos.
You'll arrive at the Laguna Amarga main entrance and register at the park office. After checking in at the Las Torres sector inside the park, you'll embark on an 11.2-mile (18 km) hike, which takes all day to complete. You'll start by following a trail up Mount Almirante Nieto, which features stunning views of Lago Nordenskjöld and the Asencio Valley below. After two hours of hiking, you'll reach Refugio & Camping Chileno, where you'll break for lunch.
Then it's another hour of hiking past ancient lenga forests until you arrive at a moraine. The next part is a 45-minute hard scramble to the top and Mirador Base Torres. In this spot, three granite pillars jut out of the ground over a silver lagoon and make for the best view in the park. You'll also see the towering peaks of nearby Torre Sur, Torre Central, Torre Norte, Condor's Nest, and Glacier Torre. Later, you'll hike back down the mountain and meet your driver for the ride back to Puerto Natales.
Day 7: Full-Day Torres del Paine TourAfter breakfast, meet your driver for the ride back to Torres del Paine for a full-day tour. You'll visit some of the park's main attractions, such as Laguna Amarga, which features views of the iconic peaks of the Cordillera Paine. You'll also hike over a suspension bridge in the Lago Grey sector and enjoy views of glaciers. Continue trekking to Salto Grande, the park's famous thundering waterfalls. At the end of the day, you'll return to Puerto Natales, stopping at the glassy Lago Sarmiento to snap a few final photos.
Day 8: Boat Tour to Bernardo O'Higgins National Park & Glaciers
In the morning, you'll hop on a boat for a ride on the Seno Última Esperanza. As you travel along the fjord, the boat will make stops at different viewpoints so you can marvel at the surrounding glaciers, waterfalls, and cliffs. Keep an eye out for condors flying overhead. Your ultimate destination is Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. This massive protected area spans 8,867 square miles (22,860 sq km), making it the country's largest national park. Here, you'll disembark for a short hike through native forests until you reach the impressive Serrano Glacier.
After some time to snap photos and enjoy the forest, you'll return to the boat and head to the nearby Estancia Perales. Here, you'll break for a traditional lunch of succulent Patagonian barbecue (vegetarian options available). Afterward, you'll transfer back to Puerto Natales.
Day 9: Fly to Santiago & Depart
Your whirlwind adventure through Chilean Patagonia has come to an end. In the morning, a driver will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to the airport in Puerto Natales. After flying to Santiago, you'll catch your connecting flight home. Safe travels!