Ready to set off the most incredible journey across Chile? You better be! There is plenty to discover and we are here to help you plan your 3-week itinerary to Chile, to see the best it has to offer.
The driest place in the world? Check. The magnificent glaciers and majestic mountains in Patagonia? Check. The end of the world at Magellan Strait? Check. And there’s plenty of other places you can’t miss out on, the Easter Island for instance.
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North to south Chile measures almost 5 000 km (2 690 mi). Well, that’s impressive. What’s most impressive, is it has four types of climates! The Atacama Desert in the north is like the driest place on earth and southern Patagonia is in a subarctic zone. What am I trying to say?
Now that this is clear, I tried my best to cram all the must-see places into 3 weeks in Chile. This is my Chile Itinerary for 3 weeks, day by day. Buckle up your seatbelts and pay attention.
The capital of Chile—Santiago de Chile
We arrived in the morning, so we had the whole day to check off the must-see places in Santiago. And as there are very few of them, we were done by noon. On the other side, it’s wise to plan a light itinerary for the first day.
Santiago lies in the -4 GMT zone, so the jet lag is not as terrible as one might imagine, but still. Take a stroll through the old town and the Metropolitan Park, get yourself something tasty (and glass to your collection) at Hard Rock Café, and call it a day.
The city of Valparaíso!
Good morning, Chile! Get up early and drive to Valparaíso. In case you came from Europe, that won’t be a problem. Thanks to jet lag, you’ll be up early either way.
This artistic city is tied to Santiago with a motorway, so we were there within an hour and a half. There are no monuments or museums, but the city itself is a must-see place! It’s one of the oldest towns on both American continents and nowadays it’s home to street art from all over the world. It reminds me of San Francisco with all the hills and cable cars, only with a stronger Latino feel, more colorful and bohemian. A tour of Valparaiso highlights takes approximately 4 hours. It depends on how much time you take to admire the murals and coastal views.
Get back to your car and drive south on Route 68 until you’ll see the exit to F-90 which will take you to Isla Negra—the most interesting house set in the wonderful place. It’s mostly famous as the residence of Nobel-prize writer Pablo Neruda. I’m not a huge fan of his, but the place is simply too amazing to miss out on. The romantic setting on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and the sophisticated layout will take your breath away!
The street art in Valparaiso
This is a full-day trip. Go to Valparaíso in the morning, have lunch there, and save Isla Negra for the afternoon. You'll get back to Santiago right in time for dinner and perhaps a drink.
Read more: The detailed info about Santiago, Valparaíso, and Isla Negra, including the maps and opening hours, is also to be found in the article about Things to do in Santiago de Chile.
On my way to the San Francisco Glacier
One of our day trips from Santiago was to Maipo Canyon. Want to see the most awe-inspiring views around Santiago? This is it. There are many 6k mountains, which makes this place ideal for hikes and climbing. It was the first time that I saw such huge mountains face to face, and I was stunned.
One of the must-see places around is El Yeso dam and San Francisco Glacier. The vistas are going to make your jaw drop. There are plenty of hiking routes to take, however, due to limited time we decided only to hike to San Francisco Glacier, which was amazing. For more details read points number 2 and 3 in my article about the best of Santiago (with day trips).
Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama
Originally, I didn’t want to go there, but Karin insisted, so... you probably know how it ended. She was right though, it was breathtaking. The heart of the Chilean desert, San Pedro de Atacama, offers beautiful landscapes with 6,000 m (19,600 ft) volcanos all around, skies of thousands of colors, and vast dunes and rock formations.
The flight from Santiago to Calama takes around 2 hours, then you need to get to San Pedro by shuttle bus, or in a rented car (a better option, as you will need it for the other trips too). The drive to San Pedro takes slightly more than an hour, so if you leave Santiago in the morning, you’ll manage to get to San Pedro by noon.
Tip: San Pedro de Atacama is the only place in Chile where you need a petrol-engine car because of the high altitude (diesel engines struggle in such conditions). Plus, it’s a desert with dusty roads everywhere, so I recommend renting an off-road model.
There are many interesting places around San Pedro you should squeeze into your itinerary, but this afternoon, start easy with a trip to Valle de la Luna. It’s most famous for its splendid sunset landscape but there are also great dunes and amazing rock formations to check out.
El Tatio Geysers amazed me!
Get up very early in the morning to make the best of the El Tatio Geysers—the top highlight around San Pedro. If you’re from Europe, the jet lag will prevent you from sleeping anyway. The geyser field is the highest in the world at 4,320 m (14,173 ft) above sea level. That means two things: wear layers because it’s really cold up there, and be aware of mountain sickness. Karin experienced it first-hand, but fortunately, the coca leaf tea helped.
In my opinion, the best thing about El Tatio is the route up there. You need to set off super early to experience hot steam (they are not visible in the afternoon) which also means, you’ll get to see the desert waking up. And that’s magic I can’t describe.
One of the best photo spots is Vado Rió Putana, approximately halfway to El Tatio. The wetlands are full of life in the morning and the volcano serves as a perfect backdrop. Even the photos wouldn’t do it justice, so no oversleeping!
Tip: Book the visit of Termas de Puritama 2 days ahead and soak in the natural hot spring on your way back to San Pedro.
The lagoon is inhabited by beautiful flamingos. They let you come up really close, which is fun
Your next one-day trip will be to the salt flats of Atacama. The large salty lagoons in high altitudes are filled with flamingos and are breathtaking at first sight. Laguna Chaxa Park is a part of Los Flamencos National Reserve located 60 km south of San Pedro and comprises several highlights, including the two perfectly round-shaped lagoons called Ojos de Salar.
Further south incredible Altiplano Lagoons lie at the feet of the massive volcanos. The two lagoons, Miscanti y Miñiques, used to be one until the petrified lava split them in two. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat, and lip balm, as there’s no place to hide and the average temperature hovers around 40 °C (104 °F).
The Death Valley
The last day in San Pedro will belong to death! Nah... let’s leave Death Valley to California. In San Pedro, it’s called Mars Valley (Valle de Marte), Death Valley is just the outcome of the silly linguistic distortion.
"Is there life on Mars?" David Bowie asked. Well, in San Pedro's Mars Valley, there is! It lies on the edge of the town with its majestic dunes and rugged landscape and it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Atacama. There’s also an ancient rock fortress towering over the valley and a Devil’s Throat viewpoint just a stone’s throw away.
It’s all within 7 km (4.3 mi) from San Pedro, so it’s easily accessible by car, bike, or even by foot (not recommended unless you want to become a human french fry due to the unbearable heat).
Read more: Practical information about entrance fees and facts, as well as more photos, are covered in my full article about Top Places in San Pedro de Atacama.
We stayed for 3 nights in Puerto Varas, and honestly, I think that’s not enough to enjoy all the region has to offer. Otherwise you would need at least a month to explore Chile properly, and nobody has that kind of time!
Upon arrival, I think the best thing is to get settled in your hotel and head out to one of the many great restaurants for Pil Pil—a delicious Chilean meal. Take some time to relax and recharge your batteries.
On your way to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, don’t forget to stop by Petrohué Waterfalls
Petrohué Waterfalls stand on the way to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park about an hour’s drive from Puerto Varas. We planned this as a whole day trip, so we had enough time for a hike. The crystal-clear waterfalls running down the pitch-black volcanic rock are literally amazing.
The waterfalls are at the very beginning of the park, continue further and try one of the hikes around the lake, with a view of Osorno Volcano. Just don’t plan this for January, or you’ll get eaten alive by the blood-sucking Chilean horse flies.
For detailed information about the hikes, maps, and other useful tips, check the Lakes District Top 10 article.
Pucón on the shores of Lake Villarrica
Pucón is a super cute city on the shores of Lake Villarrica with cozy cafés, good restaurants, and nice beaches. The plan for the rest of the day is clear: fill your belly, book a tour to Villarrica Volcano, take a stroll on the beach, and call it a night. You will need all the strength you can muster for tomorrow.
Villarrica gave us a hard time
Now, I understand, this is not a hike for everyone. It’s really challenging, so you don’t feel up for it, don’t go there. There are plenty of other options to fill out your day with. Try out the hot spring baths of Termas Geometricas for instance (they are excellent, especially after the hike).
I put together a full article explaining how to hike Villarrica, including preparation, my tips, and a trip report. Spoiler: It's hard, smelly, and slippery!
Beauty in beautiful National Park Huerguehue
Next to Villarica NP there’s the extremely beautiful National Park Huerguehue. It’s situated 35 km (22 mi) northeast of Pucón and offers plenty of amazing hiking routes. It’s one of the oldest national parks in Chile, dating back to 1912. We gave it a whole day to explore the park and to visit the Tres Saltos Waterfalls on our way back. Check out my article on the 8 Highlights of Patagonia for more info about all the hikes and possibilities.
I loved the atmosphere of Punta Arenas
First, you need to get back to Puerto Montt to return the car and hop on a plane. That will take you around 4 hours. Counting in the 2 hours flight and some time reserved for all the necessities, you can be in Punta Arenas early in the afternoon.
What did we like in Punta Arenas? Here is the list:
Punta Arenas is as south as you’ll get on your way. Located on the Magellan Strait, it’s Chile’s southernmost city. Take the afternoon to explore the town. I promise you’ll feel like you are in the Antarctica drawing room, with gusts as strong as 100 km (62 mi) per hour; it’s tough weather out there. There’s nothing much to explore, it’s more about the atmosphere, so 4 or 5 hours are more than enough.
The next stop on your Chile trip is Puerto Natales, the harbor town 250 km northwest of Punta Arenas and the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. Hit highway no. 9 and you’ll get to Puerto Natales in less than 3 hours. The park’s official websites issued a handy road map you can download to get your bearings around the area.
Outside the city, around 20 minutes by car, lies Cueva del Milodon. The large cave used to be a refuge for many giant prehistoric animals. There’s a museum, several caves, and a rock formation called Silla del Diablo you can explore. Plan around 3 hours for the visit including the route there and back again.
Cueva del Milodon
Then, head back to the city for a good meal and a restful sleep before the upcoming trip to Torres del Paine. Honestly, there’s nothing to do in the town itself except fill your memory card with epic ocean landscape photos or try Chilean cuisine. So, if you somehow manage to spare some time to kill, the waterfront is the place to go.
The Condor Lookout in Torres del Pain was absolutely the best!
And, finally, the crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park. I have an extensive article about the highlights, treks, tips and tricks, hotel, and more. Now, I’m going to focus on the logistics and schedule.
It’s 80 km (50 mi) from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. I prefer to stay in the town and travel back and forth to different destinations in the park. There are many accommodation options in Torres del Paine, I just think the service quality doesn’t match the high prices (but if you wish to live in the rough wilderness, check the tips in the article I mentioned above). Stay at Hotel Vendaval or AKA Patagonia in Puerto Natales instead.
Counting an hour and a half to get to Torres del Paine and the same amount of time to return, let’s say you have approximately 8 hours flat for hiking (I did count in a lunch break). Anyway, it’s the best activity to do in Torres del Paine.
Drive to the Pehoé Lake and try out the Condor Lookout, it’s an easy short hike, suitable for anyone. The route then continues along the lake shore further north. You can pop into one of the hosterias on the way for lunch and continue to Cuernos Lookout, a truly spectacular hike that offers breathtaking views of Salto Grande Waterfall with almost zero effort.
Salto Grande Waterfall in Torres del Paine
Distance: 17.5 km (11 mi) of hiking + 212 km (132 mi) of driving
Once you’re in Torres del Pain, you have to try kayaking in Glacier Grey
Don’t forget to pack warm clothes and some snacks with you, as this is a full-day trip. The expedition takes about 2.5 hours, plus the ferry ride (1.5 hours there and back) and traveling between Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales. However, it’s an absolute must. I would even go as far as saying that if you haven’t seen the Glacier Grey, you haven't been to Torres del Paine.
Las Torres is a must!
This is the last day in Torres del Paine. Well, the Las Torres Trek is mandatory...after all, the three “Towers of Paine” peaks are the most iconic landmarks of Torres del Paine and the whole national park carries its name.
It starts in front of Hotel Las Torres, which is less than a 2 hour drive from Puerto Natales. The hike to Las Torres is quite challenging though, so plan on 7 to 8 hours for the hike to enjoy the views. As you can see from my face above, it’s tough but wonderful. I think the photo can’t do it justice.
Let’s head to Easter Islands!
I’m sorry to inform you that this is another travel day. Many people think that they will do Easter Island as a one-day trip from Santiago. Sure, be my guest, if you want to spend 10 hours on a plane and 2 on the actual island, as it lies exactly 3,746 km (2 327 mi) west of Chile.
One step at a time: first, get back to Punta Arenas, return the car, and hop on a plane to Santiago. As there are only two or three flights a day to Easter Island even in the high season, be sure to plan your flight from Punta Arenas accordingly. The flight from Santiago to Easter Island may also be delayed due to strong winds, so maybe bring yourself a good book in case it happens to you.
Although getting there is lengthy and exhausting, Easter Island is one of the most mysterious places on the planet, so you simply can’t miss out on it. Don’t you think it would be a shame to visit Chile and not go the extra mile (several thousands in this case) to see the Moai statues in real life?
Tip: LATAM is the only airline operating between Easter Island and Chile. Look up the flights directly from their official website in the Chilean version. It’s known that the website charges significantly more in the US version, even in the low season.
Let the Easter Island adventure begin! The one thing you’ve been craving to see is Moai statues, right? Well, they’re all over the island. The most famous ones are to be found in the Rano Raraku quarry which is part of the Rapa Nui National Park.
Easter Island is pretty small, so don’t worry that you’ll have just two days to spend there. From the capital Hanga Roa, which is basically the only proper city on the island, it’s just 13 km (8 mi) to this place. So, this is the only place I won’t tell you to rent a car at. You can rent a bike though, or scooter in case you’re really worn off at this point.
My advice, get up early to catch the sunrise at Rano Raku and immerse in the proper magical atmosphere of this place. There’s one road leading along the entire east coast with the statues scattered around.
There are tour guides that will passionately talk to you about the Rapa Nui culture in English, but I recommend reading up on it in advance and going on your own, not only you will be free to move at your own pace around the island, but you’ll also avoid the crowds and enjoy the sunrise on your own. Moreover, you’ll have the chance to take the best shots of the landscape with only the freely grazing horses to pose for the pictures.
The statues in Orongo stone village
On the second day, I suggest heading out to Orongo stone village, where you can still see the remnants of the previous inhabitants' architecture. On top of that, the little hill called Rano Kau is a dormant volcano with a freshwater lake in the crater and a stunning view.
For the rest of the day, you can visit the Rapa Nui Museum in Hanga Roa, kick back on the beach, see one of the cultural dancing shows, have something to eat, and watch the sunset at the magical Ahu Tahai monument right on the edge of the city.
No, I was not that happy about leaving... I was just that happy about the business class service!
And here we are, at the end of our glorious adventure. As I said earlier, the more time you have for Chile, the better. This 3-week Chile itinerary covers all the must-see places, but there’s always more you could add if you have more time. Chile is a large country and there’s something amazing at every corner.
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Torres del Paine is not only a national park but also a national gem of Chile. It has it all: glaciers, lakes, and mountains. Where to stay, what to see, and what to pack? Read in and find out.