This 13-day itinerary covers the major highlights found in and around the Andes, including the northern Atacama Desert, the central Lake District, and Torres del Paine National Park. There's even a break to do some wine tasting in Chile's famous vineyards. This is a partial road trip, so you can set your own schedule and explore however and wherever you like.

Highlights

  • Visit the fertile Casablanca Valley and enjoy some wine tasting
  • Tour the geysers, salt flats, and lunar landscapesAtacama Desert
  • Discover the highlights of Chile's Lake District
  • Take a road trip to Chiloé, Chile's most mythical and beautiful island
  • Spend a few days exploring Torres del Paine National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago City Tour Santiago
Day 3 Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley Santiago
Day 4 Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 Tatio Geysers, Machuca & Moon Valley Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 7 San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Days 8-9 Puerto Varas to Chiloé Island Self-Drive Castro
Day 10 Chiloé Island to Patagonia - Transfer to Torres del Paine Torres del Paine
Days 11-12 Torres del Paine Free Day Torres del Paine
Day 13 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: Santiago City Tour

Santiago's bustling central market
Santiago's bustling central market

Like any great city, Santiago's cultural pulse is found in its people, marketplaces, and cuisine. To that end, today you'll head out on a guided city tour. Depending on your preference, this will either be a full-day or half-day tour with an English-speaking guide. Regardless of which one you choose, you'll become an honorary Santiaguino!

Tour highlights:

  • Wander 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. 

  • Visit the Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.

  • Head to the glittering Costanera Center, an epic skyscraper encased in glass! For one of the best and certainly highest views in Latin America, go to the Sky viewpoint. At nearly 1,000 feet (304 m) high, the top offers 360-degree views of the city below, as well as the surrounding Andes.

  • Visit Cerro Santa Lucia, a small, manicured park in the center of Santiago. As you stroll up the hill, make sure to stop and see Fuente Neptuno and Castillo Hidalgo, two impressive structures located within the grounds. 

  • If you haven't done it yet, ascend to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal via hike or cable car. Enjoy the 360° panoramas and take plenty of photos, as these are the most incredible views in Santiago.

Day 3: Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & Casablanca Valley

Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley
Visit a winery in Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley

After breakfast, you'll depart from your hotel in Santiago and drive about an hour west towards the coast. Your destination is the Casablanca Valley, which is home to many top wineries. Here you'll take a tour, tasting, and enjoy lunch at the wonderful Casa del Bosque Winery.

After lunch, you'll continue the short distance to the coast and the cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. First up is the port city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its colorful hillside neighborhoods, winding stairways, and abundance of street art. It's a throwback to a time when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and funicular elevators carried people high into the hills. On a city tour, you'll visit some famous sites, such as Plaza de la Victoria and the Naval Academy, and ride a funicular high into the hills where panoramic vistas of the bay await. A real highlight is visiting the former home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. 

Afterward, you'll drive a short way to the adjacent town of Viña del Mar, which couldn't be more different in terms of style than its neighbor. Whereas Valparaiso is a retro artistic haven, Viña is a modern seaside hotspot abounding with sleek shopping centers and upscale restaurants. After touring around the city and waterfront, you'll return to Santiago in time for dinner.

Day 4: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama

Valley of the Moon, Chile
Valley of the Moon, Chile

After breakfast, you'll transfer by private car to the airport, where you’ll catch a flight to the city of Calama, in northern Chile. Upon arrival, another driver will meet you for the hour-and-20-minute drive to the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the embarkation point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.

During the journey between these two places, you will see some of the most evocative and ancient landscapes anywhere in the world. This high-altitude desert abounds with seemingly endless salt flats, painted hills that change color depending on the light, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, whose flaming red mountains form the base of the Valley of the Moon.

Upon arrival at San Pedro de Atacama, you will check into your hotel and have the remainder of the day to enjoy the town however you see fit. The good news is that even if you're tired there's no need to worry—San Pedro is so small you can walk around the entire town in about 15 minutes.

Some recommended activities in San Pedro de Atacama include:

  • Visit the Church of San Pedro de Atacama. This little white-washed chapel in the center of town boasts a lot of history. Dating back to 1540, it's the nation's second-oldest church. Inside you'll find a three-tiered baroque altar, which is the only one of its kind in Chile. 

  • Tour the town. San Pedro is notable for its abundance of adobe homes and businesses. It's unique in Chile in that there is quite a bit of pre-Spanish indigenous influence. Just strolling the dusty streets you get a sense of the pre-Hispanic Atacameño culture that once thrived here. Today you'll find many souvenir shops selling basketworks, ceramic pottery, and artisan crafts.

  • Dine out in San Pedro. There isn't much to do in the town of San Pedro except plan your excursions and eat out. Luckily the town has plenty of restaurants to cater to every taste, from funky cafés and vegetarian diners to Chilean steakhouses, Italian pizzerias, Mediterranean restaurants, and pan-Asian-inspired eateries.

Day 5: Atacama Desert Tour: Lagoons & Salt Flats

The Chilean Altiplano
The Chilean Altiplano

Today you'll embark on a full-day excursion into the Atacama Desert. After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at the hotel and you'll head out to the first destination: Laguna Chaxa. Located 50 km (31 miles) from San Pedro sits this desert oasis in the middle of the Atacama Salar salt flats. Also here is the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Even from afar you'll be able to spot the Chilean flamingos that call this reserve home as their pink feathers shine brightly against the contrasting blue of the shallow water.

At lunchtime, the tour will stop in Socaire, a humble agricultural village famous for its simple adobe homes, rustic chapel, and slow pace of life. After eating, the tour will continue towards the Altiplano (high plateau) lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, which are located at a whopping 4,200 meters (13,779 feet) in elevation. You might feel a bit lightheaded, so try not to exert yourself and be sure to drink plenty of water. Enjoy the panoramic views of an altiplano desert surrounded by towering volcanoes and abounding with wildlife like flamencos, foxes, and vicunas.

The last stop on the tour is a visit to the town of Toconao, an oasis with a climate ideal for the cultivation of native fruits and vegetables. You'll stroll the streets, shop for handicrafts, and admire local homes cobbled together out of volcanic rocks. You'll also visit the white-washed church with its famous three-storied belltower. The church itself dates back to 1750 and has been declared a national monument. 

Finally, at around 6 pm, you'll return to your hotel and can enjoy the rest of the evening in town. Note that the day's itinerary may vary according to weather and road conditions.

Day 6: Tatio Geysers, Machuca & Moon Valley Tour

Tatio Geysers at sunrise
Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Today's an early start as you'll depart the hotel at 4:30 am for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends, though, as seeing the sun rise over the Atacama Desert 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's surface causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 10 meters (30 feet). 

At an altitude of 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. So take your time and admire these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and at the appropriate hour breakfast will be served on site. Another option is to take a relaxing soak in a natural geothermal pool—mother nature's jacuzzi.

On the return drive to San Pedro, you'll stop at Machuca, a small, humble village on the Altiplano whose residents have bred llamas and harvested Yareta (moss-like evergreen plants that can survive for thousands of years) for generations. It's a small but welcoming town, comprised of only about 20 homes and a simple chapel. That said, some locals sell crafts, and you can admire the llamas in the area as well as the flamingos that reside in nearby marshlands.

This is an opportunity to visit the amazing geological formations of the Atacama Desert. You'll travel to the nearby salt caves at the Cordillera del Sal, a mountain range formed millions of years ago in an old lake bed. You'll also witness unique geological formations like the “Three Marias" (Las Tres Marias), which are the result of over a million years of erosion of the salt and clay in the earth's crust. The highlight of this tour is witnessing the Atacama sunset, which is a veritable light show featuring breathtaking landscapes and colors of the mountains, with the Licancabur Volcano looming overhead. Don't forget to bring your camera!

In the evening you will visit an astronomy site just outside of San Pedro. The high-altitude desert and clear night skies here make for excellent stargazing, and you'll learn about the various constellations with the help of a local guide specializing in astronomic sciences.

Day 7: San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Montt - Transfer to Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas, on Lake Llanquihue
Puerto Varas, on Lake Llanquihue

This morning, transfer from your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama to Calama for your flight to the Lake District city of Puerto Montt via Santiago. Upon arrival at Puerto Montt, you'll pick up your rental and drive 30 minutes north to the pleasant town of Puerto Varas, located on the shores of Llanquihue Lake. There's an interesting mix of cultures in Puerto Varas seen in its rich German heritage as well as the influence of the Mapuche indigenous people.

After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the town and relax as you see fit. 

Days 8-9: Puerto Varas to Chiloé Island Self-Drive

The Palafitos de Gamboa (stilt houses) of Castro, Chiloé
The Palafitos de Gamboa (stilt houses) of Castro, Chiloé

In the morning you'll hop in your rental car and embark on the approximately two-hour journey southwest to the island of Chiloé. This is a scenic trip that involves taking a ferry from Puerto Montt to the northern tip of the island. From here you're in for a beautiful 90-minute drive amid rolling green hills south to the colorful port city of Castro, which is famous for its waterfront stilt houses (known locally as the Palafitos de Gamboa) and brightly painted old churches. 

All told you will spend two nights in Chiloé. The time is yours to explore the island however you see fit, and a map of its most famous sites and attractions will be provided as will recommendations of where to go and what to do. Maybe you'll want to visit the penguin colony just outside the northern island city of Ancud or walk the coastal hiking trails of Chiloé National Park through rugged lenga forests. Maybe you can even chat up some friendly locals and learn a bit about Chiloé's mythical lore (some say witches patrol the coastline of the island at night). 

In the evening be sure to sample some delicious local cuisine. One dish, curanto, is a rich seafood stew that has been around as long as the island has been settled, maybe even longer (perhaps dating back to the indigenous). Typically the dish is prepared by burying shellfish, meat, and potatoes in the ground and cooking it over hot rocks.

Day 10: Chiloé Island to Patagonia - Transfer to Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine

After breakfast, you'll drive to the airport at Puerto Montt where you will drop off your rental car and hop a flight to Santiago. You'll then take a connecting flight to Chilean Patagonia. You'll either land in the port city of Punta Arenas and transfer by vehicle a few hours north to Torres del Paine National Park, or you'll arrive in Puerto Natales, the main hub near Torres del Paine, and transfer about 1.5 hours to the park.

Upon entering Torres del Paine you'll complete the visitor registration and check into your accommodations. You'll have two full days here to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site any way you wish, but we particularly recommend taking advantage of the park's extensive network of hiking trails and trekking routes.

Days 11-12: Torres del Paine Free Day

On the way up to the Paine Massif
On the way up to the Paine Massif

Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast, because afterward, you get to hike into the park. You can enjoy the nature here however you like, but we recommend embarking on one of the most famous routes in Torres del Paine: the trail that leads to Mirador Base Torres, at the foot of the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine). Here three granite pillars 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 can hike back down the mountain and return to your hotel.

Hike distance: 17 km/11 miles
Hike duration: 7-10 hours

Day 13: 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!