You don't need two full weeks to experience Chilean Patagonia. In fact, you can enjoy the major highlights in one national park: Torres del Paine. Not only is this one of the most famous trekking destinations in the world, but it's overflowing with snow-capped peaks, thundering waterfalls, and turquoise lakes. This quick six-day itinerary includes the best sites and treks in the park, and you'll kick off the adventure by exploring  Chile's capital of Santiago.

Highlights

  • Explore the streets of Santiago, a city rich in culture and colonial heritage
  • Hike to the base of the famous Paine Massif, in Torres del Paine National Park
  • Marvel at Salto Grande, the most impressive waterfall in Torres del Paine

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Fly from Santiago to Puerto Arenas &Transfer to Puerto Natales Puerto Natales
Day 3 Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers Torres del Paine
Day 4 Admire Salto Grande Torres del Paine
Day 5 Full-Day Trek to Lago Sarmiento & Laguna Amarga Torres del Paine
Day 6 Torres del Paine 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: Fly from Santiago to Puerto Arenas &Transfer to Puerto Natales

Aerial view of Punta Arenas
Aerial view of Punta Arenas

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport, at which time you'll catch a flight to the city of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia. Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, you'll hop a bus for a three-hour trip north to Puerto Natales. When you arrive, you'll transfer to your hotel and have the rest of the evening to relax and explore the town. 

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 air of small-town tranquility. Puerto Natales offers simple pleasures like strolling its waterfront promenade, which sits on the Ultima Esperanza Sound. Facing north from here, you'll see the peaks of Cerro Benitez and Cerro Toro, and the view at sunset is phenomenal.

Day 3: Torres del Paine: Trekking to the Base of the Towers

Base of Torres del Paine
Base of Torres del Paine

After breakfast, your excursion into the park will begin. Today you'll be heading up to the base of Torres del Paine 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 18 km (11 miles) and lasts about nine hours. Every step of the way you will enjoy views of beautiful scenery comprised of rivers, native forest, mountain peaks, and narrow valleys. You'll likely even spot some impressive local avian varieties, like condors and black eagles. 

Your route will begin at the Las Torres Hostel and will take you over the Ascencio River, at which point you'll ascend about 2.5 km to a lookout featuring panoramic views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. Then you'll 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, you'll likely forget all about your exhaustion. Upon arrival, you’ll have ample time to rest by the lagoon and marvel at the amazing rock formations as you enjoy a delicious picnic lunch.

Afterward, you'll begin the return trip back down the trail. The descent takes approximately four hours, at the end of which you'll arrive back to the hotel.

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: Full-Day Trek to Lago Sarmiento & Laguna Amarga

On the move in Torres del Paine
On the move in Torres del Paine

In the morning you'll venture out on a full-day excursion to the east side of the park. 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 as well as the guanacos that live in the area.

You'll then arrive at Laguna Amarga, notable for the alkaline waters that result in its surface being so glassy and attractive. Also here is a stunning view of the Paine Massif. You'll stop nearby at Laguna Blanquillos, another lagoon, this one a natural habitat for endemic birds like ducks, black-necked swans, and geese. The hike continues to a rocky outcropping where you can see 20 cave paintings that date back about 6,000 years. You'll follow the path up to the Sarmiento Lake gatehouse where you'll enjoy a box lunch and a peaceful respite from the day's exertions.

Afterward you'll begin the hike back to your lodging in Torres del Paine.

Day 6: Torres del Paine to Santiago & Departure

Goodbye, Torres del Paine
Goodbye, Torres del Paine

Today, you’ll take a private transfer from Torres del Paine National Park to the Punta Arenas airport. You'll then hop on a domestic flight to Santiago. From there you'll meet your connecting flight home. ¡Buen viaje!