Deep south of Chile and Argentina, this 8-day itinerary explores some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. First, head to Chilean Patagonia's Torres del Paine for snow-capped peaks and thundering waterfalls. Next, bus to Argentine Patagonia for a glacier hike and other activities while based in El Calafate—a traveler hub with a range of services. Kick off the whole trip in Santiago for a taste of big-city culture.

Highlights

  • Have lunch in waterfront Puerto Natales before entering Torres del Paine
  • Hike to the base of the Paine massif for a true Patagonian experience
  • Explore the park's most spectacular waterfall: Salto Grande
  • Walk on a massive glacier equipped with crampons and an ice axe
  • Day-trip to more Argentine glaciers, rivers, and lakes on your last day

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park Torres del Paine
Day 3 Hike to Las Torres Lookout Torres del Paine
Day 4 Admire Salto Grande Torres del Paine
Day 5 From Torres del Paine to El Calafate (Argentina) El Calafate
Day 6 El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike El Calafate
Day 7 Lago Argentino, Glaciers & Estancia Cristina El Calafate
Day 8 El Calafate 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 to Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine, with the Cuernos del Paine in the background
Torres del Paine, with the Cuernos del Paine in the background

Today is mostly a travel day, as you have a few transfers before arriving at the ultimate destination: Torres del Paine National Park. This is one of the most iconic and beautiful protected areas in Patagonia.

In the morning a driver will pick you up for the transfer to Santiago's airport, where you'll catch a flight to Punta Arenas, a city located deep in Chilean Patagonia on the shores of the Strait of Magellan. You'll then transfer from the airport in Punta Arenas for the three-hour drive to Torres del Paine, stopping en route in Puerto Natales, an attractive city situated on the Esperanza Sound. Here you'll enjoy a hearty local lunch complete with views across the water to the snowy peak of Mt. Balmaceda.    

You'll then continue on to Torres del Paine. On the remainder of the drive, you'll likely spot some of Patagonia's famed wildlife, including guanacos (a type of camelid similar to a llama) and rheas. You'll then enter the park and transfer to your hotel. 

Know that sunset usually occurs around 11 pm in the Patagonian summer months. So even though you'll arrive at your destination later in the day, you'll still have ample time to admire the surrounding mountain scenery. You certainly won't miss the iconic triple peaks of the Paine Massif, part of the Cordillera del Paine. They rise sharply into the sky like jagged horns, hence their nickname, the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine).

Day 3: Hike to Las Torres Lookout

Hike to the base of Cuernos del Paine
Hike to the base of Cuernos del Paine

After an energizing breakfast, you will transfer to Hotel Las Torres at the other end of the park. This is where you will stay for the next few days.

After settling in, you'll then embark on one of the most famous routes in Torres del Paine: the trail that leads to Base Torres, at the foot of the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine). Here three granite pillars that jut out of the ground over a silver lagoon. It's the best view in the park.

This eight-hour hike begins at the trailhead near Hotel Las Torres with a walk up Almirante Nieto, a mountain featuring wide views of Lake Nordenskjold and the Asencio Valley down below. After two hours of steady ascent, you'll arrive at Refugio Chileno, a lodge where you'll have an opportunity to take a break and enjoy lunch with your fellow hikers.

From here, it's another hour of hiking through a dense Lenga forest. After emerging from the forest you'll approach a rocky moraine and climb up to Base Torres. You'll likely be exhausted, but the image of those granite peaks towering over you will make the whole experience worthwhile. Later, you'll hike back down the mountain and return to your hotel for dinner and a good night's rest.

Day 4: Admire Salto Grande

The majesty of Salto Grande
The majesty of Salto Grande

Today you will visit the park's most spectacular waterfall: Salto Grande. This day's excursion is a relatively easy one, as the outing begins with a 45-minute drive to Pudeto, located in the heart of the park's lake district. From there it’s a short walk to Salto Grande, a raging aquamarine cascade that channels water between lakes Nordenskjöld and Pehoé.

From the waterfall, you'll continue on a trail that leads to Sendero Mirador Cuernos, one of the park’s most spectacular viewpoints. The panorama here features prime views of the Horns of Paine, the French Valley, and the French Glacier rising straight up from the north shore of Lago Nordenskjöld. The total hike time is about two hours roundtrip, and high winds are common during this trek.

Day 5: From Torres del Paine to El Calafate (Argentina)

The "horns of Paine," at Torres del Paine
The "horns of Paine," at Torres del Paine

Today, you will transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales where you'll catch the 3.5-hour bus north to El Calafate, Argentina.

Upon arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing, or venture out and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. Maybe prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multi-media center has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice—a great stop before dinner in town.

Day 6: El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier Hike

Trekking Perito Moreno
Trekking Perito Moreno

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes out over the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino, ending abruptly in a great wall that curves around the lake. Wait a bit and you'll witness "calving," the awe-inspiring sight of ice breaking off the facade and crashing into the tranquil waters below. Every time ice hits the water a thundering crash reverberates in the ears. 

Believe it or not, you will be trekking on top of this glacier. It's a full-day excursion that involves walking over the ice while fully equipped with crampons and an ice axe. And while traversing Perito Moreno is certainly an active adventure, it's perfectly safe as you'll be accompanied by certified bilingual guides. So enjoy crossing deep blue ice crevices and hiking over meltwater streams as you experience Perito Moreno up close. 

During the day you'll also have ample time to witness the glacier from one of the many viewing platforms in the park. These platforms are accessible via a network of boardwalks that run along the shores of the lake. They offer the best vantage points and sweeping views of the glacier, making for great photo opportunities.

Day 7: Lago Argentino, Glaciers & Estancia Cristina

The views around Estancia Cristina
The views around Estancia Cristina

There's more activity in store for today. After an early breakfast at your hotel, a driver will pick you and other passengers up from your respective hotels for the 28-mile (45 km) drive to the port at Punta Bandera, on Lago Argentino. The drive along this route is scenic and pleasant, affording sweeping views of the Patagonian countryside and the charming wooden houses that intermittently dot the landscape. 

Having reached the port, you'll board a modern ferry and embark on a journey on the Upsala Channel, passing towering icebergs along the way. As you reach the northern section you'll see the western front of the Spegazzini Glacier. At over 10 miles (16 km) long and one mile wide (1.6 km), the length, breadth, and towering ice walls that define this ancient mass of ice are awe-inspiring. 

After taking the time to admire Spegazzini, you will continue sailing north and into the Cristina Channel. At the far end of this channel is the disembarking point for Estancia Cristina where you'll arrive late morning. 

Estancia Cristina is one of the most impressive ranch-style lodges in the region. It was founded in 1914 by pioneers and built on a valley once covered by the Upsala Glacier. A visit to the Folkloric Museum here (located in an old sheep-shearing shed), offers insight into the history of the estancia. The surrounding scenery is nothing to scoff at either—all around are impressive panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. 

After the museum, you'll embark on a 6 mile (9.5 km) journey by 4x4 over an unpaved road that ascends into the mountains. After reaching the Continental Ice Field Refuge, you will exit the vehicle and begin a 20-minute walk featuring views of glacial landscapes and Andes mountains until you reach the Upsala viewpoint. Here you will have an unobstructed view of the eastern face of the Upsala Glacier as well as Lake Guillermo and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. 

In the late afternoon, you will board the boat again and begin the return to Punta Bandera. After landing, you will transfer back to your hotel in time for dinner.

Day 8: El Calafate to Santiago - Departure

Goodbye, Santiago!
Goodbye, Santiago!

It's time to say goodbye to Argentina and Chile! In the morning, you'll transfer from your hotel in El Calafate to the airport. Here you'll catch a flight to Santiago and make your connecting flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Torres del Paine & El Calafate - 8 Days
Map of Torres del Paine & El Calafate - 8 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019