"Best" is no hyperbole—this 16-day journey covers the most beautiful and culturally rich areas of Chile, from the mainland to the South Pacific. You'll arrive in the northern Atacama Desert to explore geysers, lunar valleys, vast salt flats, and more. Then, travel south to rugged Patagonia as you visit penguin colonies in Puerto Natales, marvel at massive glaciers, and hike around Torres del Paine National Park before flying to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to experience its legends and ancient ruins.


  • Explore the salt flats, alkaline lakes, and spouting geysers of the Atacama Desert
  • Marvel at the towering ice walls of Patagonian glaciers and hike Torres del Paine
  • See the moai and walk in the footsteps of the ancients on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
  • Cap the trip with palate-pleasing food and wine tours around Santiago

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in the Atacama Desert, Moon Valley & Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 2 Atacama Salt Flats & Lagoons Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Day Trip to Tatio Geysers & Lagoons San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Fly to Punta Arenas, Optional Activities Punta Arenas
Day 5 Penguin Island Tour, Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 6 Torres del Paine Full-Day Tour Puerto Natales
Day 7 Boat Tour to Balmaceda & Serrano Glaciers Puerto Natales
Day 8 Torres del Paine Hike to Laguna Amarga  Puerto Natales
Day 9 Fly to Santiago, Private Dinner Santiago
Day 10 Fly to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Tour Ahu Akivi Easter Island
Day 11 Rapa Nui History & Beach Tour Easter Island
Day 12 Orongo Volcano Hike & Birdman Ceremony Tour Easter Island
Day 13 Free Morning in Rapa Nui, Transfer to Santiago Santiago
Day 14 Day Trip to Valparaíso & Wine Tour Santiago
Day 15 Santiago City & Food Tour Santiago
Day 16 Free Morning in Santiago, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in the Atacama Desert, Moon Valley & Stargazing Tour

A historic chapel in the Atacama outpost of San Pedro

Welcome to northern Chile! While famous for its long coastline, fertile wine valleys, and Patagonian wilderness, the north of Chile offers myriad wonders in its own right. After transferring in the capital of Santiago, you'll arrive in the northern city of Calama. Then, it's a 1.5-hour drive to the remote outpost of San Pedro de Atacama, the launching point for adventures into the famed Atacama Desert. Upon arrival, you'll check into your accommodation, meet a guide, hop in a 4WD vehicle, and explore the world's highest-altitude desert (the Atacama has an average elevation of 13,000 feet/4 km).

You'll strike out into the Altiplano, a desert plateau surrounded by volcanoes that stretches into Bolivia. Your destination is the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), known for its salt flats, red cliffs, and rolling sand dunes. Highlights include the mesmerizing salt caves of the Cordillera del Sal, the otherworldly Three Marias rock formations, and, of course, the famous dunes, atop which you'll enjoy great photo opportunities. After the tour, you'll return to San Pedro.

But the adventures don't stop at day's end. After the sun goes down, you'll meet an expert guide and embark on a literal star-studded excursion with an astronomy lesson on the Altiplano. Even with the naked eye, the stars here are more vivid than anything you're likely to have experienced before. You'll also get a chance to use high-powered telescopes and/or binoculars to spot an array of celestial objects, including planets, binary stars, and spherical clusters.

Day 2: Atacama Salt Flats & Lagoons Tour

Travel to the high-altitude lakes in the Atacama

Rise and shine! Fill up with an early breakfast, then meet your driver/guide for a full-day tour of Chile's famous Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats). Leave San Pedro in a 4WD vehicle on a trip to Toconao and Socaire. These villages are known for their mud-and-volcanic-rock buildings, as well as the 18th-century church in Toconao. Meet the locals and browse craft markets, where you can pick up alpaca-wool clothing and handicrafts.

Next, visit high-plateau lagoons in Los Flamencos National Reserve. Set at 7,500 feet (2,300 m) above sea level, Laguna Chaxa is one of the best places in the world to see flamingoes. The algae-rich water is a magnet for three different flamingo species: James's, Chilean, and Andean. The birds flock here to breed and feed on plankton, shadowed by volcanoes and moon-like salt crusts. Continue to the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons for more bird-watching, then end with sweeping salt-flat views from Salar de Talar and Piedras Rojas. Afterward, you'll return to San Pedro.

Day 3: Day Trip to Tatio Geysers & Lagoons

Tatio Geysers at sunrise
Sunrise is the best time to witness geothermal activity at the Tatio Geysers

Leave the hotel around 4:30 am for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends, as seeing the sun rise over the Atacama 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 causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 30 feet (10 m). 

At 14,173 feet (4,320 m), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. So take your time, admire these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and enjoy breakfast at the site. You can also relax in a natural geothermal pool (subject to availability). 

After the geysers, your private guide will lead you on a half-day excursion to some of the region's most remarkable saline lakes. First, stroll around Laguna Cejar, whose waters have a similar salinity to the Dead Sea. Then, go for a dip in Laguna Piedra, where you can float effortlessly in the buoyant saltwater. At Laguna Tebenquiche, you'll learn about the ancient microbes in its water that date back over 3,800 years and admire the views of Andean volcanoes reflected in its glassy waters.

Day 4: Fly to Punta Arenas, Optional Activities

Take a walk around colorful Punta Arenas and see the highlights

Say goodbye to the northern deserts and hello to southern Patagonia as you transfer back to Calama this morning and board a 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 and can then spend the rest of the day exploring. The perfect starting point for a walk around town is the Plaza Muñoz Gamero. 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), but 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, making it 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), oysters, scallops, and other shellfish.

Day 5: Penguin Island Tour, Transfer to Puerto Natales

Accompanying you on a hike to a lighthouse are a few thousand penguins

You're in for a treat, as today you'll get to waddle with penguins! This half-day tour begins bright and early with a transfer 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, like cormorants, skuas, arctic pigeons, and more.

Eventually, you'll arrive at Isla Magdalena, where you'll spend one hour onshore. Once here, follow a 2,624-foot (800 m) path to an old lighthouse that offers sweeping views of the Strait of Magellan. As you go, you'll enjoy the company of the island's penguin residents. There's no experience on earth like hiking alongside these flightless birds amid the rugged Patagonian coast. Afterward, return to the boat for the ride back to Punta Arenas. There, you'll catch a bus three hours north to Puerto Natales, on the doorstep of Torres del Pain National Park.

Day 6: Torres del Paine Full-Day Tour

Spot wild guanacos as you explore the far corners of Torres del Paine

Today's adventure begins at the Cueva del Milodón (Mylodon Cave), located 15 miles (24 km) north of Puerto Natales. This is the largest in a network of caves, and it houses a life-size replica of a mylodon, a giant prehistoric sloth. German explorer Hermann Eberhard discovered the well-preserved remains of a mylodon here in 1895, hence the name. En route, pass by the Silla del Diablo (Devil's Chair), a rock formation shaped like a seat that's the subject of numerous local legends. Afterward, hop back on the road north into Torres del Paine National Park.

Soon, you'll see the Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns) and reach a fork in the road leading to Lago Grey. Once you arrive at the lake, take a pleasant walk along its shores, stopping at a viewpoint to snap some panoramic shots. After the nature trek, break for a picnic lunch and then continue to the thundering Salto Grande waterfall and another prime viewpoint overlooking the dazzling Lago Nordenskjöld. Later, follow a winding route to Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon). Later, you'll return to Puerto Natales, passing by the azure waters of Lago Sarmiento on the way back.

Day 7: Boat Tour to Balmaceda & Serrano Glaciers

Cruise to some of the most awe-inspiring glaciers in Patagonia on a boat tour
Plan your trip to Chile
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, head to the dock near Puerto Natales and hop on a boat for the ride to Balmaceda Glacier, located at the southern end of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The park is only accessible by foot or by boat, and this full-day tour follows the Última Esperanza Sound north from Puerto Natales to the glacier.

Keep your camera close during this scenic boat ride, as you'll be treated to panoramic views of native forests of coihue, canelo, and lenga beech trees. You'll also spot sea lions as you head north toward the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, disembarking on shore to enjoy close-up views of these enormous ice structures. After a short hike, you'll reach a ranch where you'll sit down for a traditional Patagonian asado (barbecue). Later in the afternoon, return by boat to Puerto Natales.

Day 8: Torres del Paine Hike to Laguna Amarga 

There are plenty more sights to see and adventures to be had in Torres del Paine

Eat a hearty breakfast because afterward, you'll venture back into Torres del Paine on a full-day excursion to the park's eastern side. First, you'll arrive at a viewpoint looking out over Lago Sarmiento, the second-largest lake in Torres del Paine. It's the perfect spot to snap epic photos of the mountain landscapes—plus, you'll spot the area's resident guanacos.

From here, begin the 4-mile (6 km) hike, which will take you to Laguna Amarga, notable for the alkaline waters that result in its glassy surface. While here, you can also admire prime views of the Paine Massif. Continue on to nearby Laguna Blanquillos, another lake, this one a habitat for endemic birds like ducks, black-necked swans, and geese.

Later, you'll arrive at a rocky outcropping where you can see 20 cave paintings dating back about 6,000 years. Follow the path up to the Lago Sarmiento gatehouse, where you'll enjoy a box lunch and a peaceful respite from the day's exertions. Afterward, begin the hike back to the starting point, where a car awaits to take you back to Puerto Natales.

Day 9: Fly to Santiago, Private Dinner

Sit down for a traditional meal of hearty Chilean dishes
Transfer to the airport in the morning for the three-hour flight north to Santiago. A driver will pick you up at the airport for the transfer back to your hotel, after which you can spend a few hours unwinding. In the evening, dine like a local when you visit the private home of a local chef to discover the flavors of Chile. During this private experience, dinner will feature delicious Chilean dishes prepared with a regional twist and paired with a selection of wines or fresh fruit juice. The meal might also be accompanied by musicians performing traditional Chilean songs live—a real treat!

Day 10: Fly to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Tour Ahu Akivi

The seven moai of Ahu Akivi all face the sunset on Rapa Nui

Did you know that Chile's frontiers stretch all the way to the South Pacific? Experience this change in scenery as you transfer to Santiago's airport this morning for a five-hour flight to Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. One of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, this volcanic wonderland is most famous for its nearly 900 monumental statues called moai. These were created by native inhabitants during the 13th to 16th centuries and range in height from 13-33 feet (4-10 m).

You won't have to wait to see this rich cultural heritage because after checking into your hotel, you'll meet a guide for an island tour. It begins with a drive about a mile inland to visit Ahu Akivi. This ceremonial platform is home to seven moai, and in ancient times, it doubled as a celestial observatory. In other words, this is where islanders came to stargaze. Interestingly, the seven moai face sunset during the spring equinox, and their backs are to the sunrise during autumn. While here, take a short hike to two other archaeological sites before returning to your hotel.

Day 11: Rapa Nui History & Beach Tour

Today's itinerary includes more fascinating ruins and some beautiful beaches

Leave this morning on a half-day tour of some of the island's cultural highlights. First up is the Akahanga region, where legend has it that the first king, Hotu Matua, is buried. From here, you'll visit Anakena Beach, Rapa Nui's most extensive stretch of sand. Usually white, the coral sands here reflect a beautiful pink hue depending on the light. You can easily set yourself up here for the day; although the beach is 11 miles (18 km) from town, it has bathrooms, snorkel rental facilities, and some good places to eat. After some relaxing beach time, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 12: Orongo Volcano Hike & Birdman Ceremony Tour

Rano Kau Volcano
Visit Rano Kau volcano, an area steeped in ancient history

This morning, take a guided hike around the extinct volcano of Rano Kau. From here, you'll get a 360-degree view of the island and an up-close look at the round crater lake and other geological features. Continue to the nearby village of Orongo, the ceremonial center of the island's Birdman cult. Learn about the annual competition to be chief, and you'll find spectacular petroglyphs referring to the cult around the village.

Next, your guide will take you to the ancient Ahu Vinapu and Ana Kai Tangata sites, where you'll glean more insight into the island's mysterious past in pre-Inca paintings. Afterward, you'll return to the hotel and will have the evening free.

Day 13: Free Morning in Rapa Nui, Fly to Santiago

Spend the morning visiting a few more moai statues before flying back to Santiago
Before saying goodbye to Rapa Nui, take the morning to do some last-minute exploring. Perhaps hit the streets and explore the main town of Hanga Roa. It's a great place to experience Rapa Nui culture via its craft markets and museums. If you like, you can also arrange a guided bicycle ride just outside of town to visit some nearby moai statues. Later, at the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport and catch a flight back to Santiago. A driver will pick you up at the terminal and take you to your hotel in the city.

Day 14: Day Trip to Valparaíso & Wine Tour

Colorful Valparaiso
Valparaíso is one of the most beautiful cities on the entire Pacific coast

This morning, you'll head to the Chilean coastal city of Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the country's most romantic and artistic city. En route, you'll stop at an organic winery in the Casablanca Valley for a guided tour and tasting session. Here, you'll sample a few delectable wines paired with Chilean cheeses and chocolates.

Next, delve into the colorful, well-preserved seaport of Valparaíso. The city is a throwback to the turn of the 20th century when electric trolleys coasted along the waterfront, and funicular elevators carried passengers to the city's highest points. Travel by trolley between Plaza Sotomayor and Plaza Aníbal Pinto, then board a funicular up into the hills for panoramic views over the city and coast.

Then, amble through hillside neighborhoods like Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Cerro Florida, with their brightly painted houses, old churches, and cobbled squares. The experience ends with a stop at a local restaurant to dine on some of the best seafood in South America. Then, it's time to hop back in the minivan for the journey back to Santiago. 

Day 15: Santiago City & Food Tour

The Plaza de Armas is the historic core of the city
The Plaza de Armas is the epicenter of historic Santiago

You've toured Chile's highlight regions—now experience the best its capital has to offer. Meet your guide in the morning and head out to feel the pulse of Santiago with a private city tour. This half-day excursion begins at the historic Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. Founded in 1541, it's home to the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church whose twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza. You'll also enjoy panoramic vistas from the top of Cerro Santa Lucía, followed by a trip to a fashionable neighborhood like Lastarria.

Around midday, the tour changes to a culinary adventure as you visit one of Santiago's finest markets, like Mercado Central or Mercado La Vega. These markets are the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and locals eager to get their hands on the day's produce. With the help of an English-speaking guide, you'll browse the stalls and pick up ingredients to take to a nearby kitchen for a cooking class. Learn to prepare some traditional Chilean recipes under the tutelage of an expert chef, then sit down and enjoy your creations for lunch. Afterward, you'll have the rest of the day free.

Day 16: Free Morning in Santiago, Depart

Sun setting over Santiago and the surrounding Andes
It's been a whirlwind 16 days across Chile. Take this morning to relax, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, organize your photos, and perhaps do some last-minute souvenir shopping. If you like, stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista, visit the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, or stop at the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile's opulent presidential palace. If there's time for lunch, check out the restaurants and wine bars in the trendy neighborhoods of Bellavista, Yungay, and Italia. Afterward, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of The Best of Chile: Desert, Mountains, Cities & South Pacific - 16 Days
Map of The Best of Chile: Desert, Mountains, Cities & South Pacific - 16 Days