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Suggested Itineraries

Because of its shape, Chile is a difficult country to travel extensively. Be aware that any itinerary will involve days lost in transit. Air travel within the country will speed things up, but will increase costs tremendously. If you're only going for a week, it's best to focus on a specific area.


The Whirlwind

Chile from top to bottom in two weeks.


Day 1: Arrive in Santiago and settle in. Try to hit the Mercado Central for a taste of Chile's culinary variety, then ascend Cerro San Cristobal or Cerro Santa Lucia for a panoramic view of the hazy city. Days 2-4: Fly to Calama, then make your way to San Pedro de Atacama by rental car or bus. Spend a few days enjoying the strange beauty of the world's driest desert. Day 5: Fly to Punta Arenas. Days 6-10: From Punta Arenas, head north to Puerto Natales and spend the next four days touring and hiking Torres del Paine National Park. Days 11-13: Fly back to Santiago, then hop a bus to the coast to spend a few days in Vi√Īa del Mar and Valpara√≠so. On the way back to Santiago, make a circuit through Isla Negra to tour the home of Pablo Neruda, then Pomaire, famous for its cheap, handmade ceramics. Day 14: Return to Santiago.


*Alternatively, you can substitute Days 11-13 with a stop in Pucón (flights between Punta Arenas and Santiago usually make a stop there) for some adventure in the Lake District, including volcano treks, horseback excursions, rafting, natural hot springs, zip-lining through the canopy, and more lakes and waterfalls than you can shake a stick at.



Santiago and the Central Valley

With Patagonia in the south and the Atacama Desert in the north, it can be tempting to jet away from Santiago as soon as possible. But the leisurely beach towns and world-famous vineyards of the Central Valley hold pleasures all their own.


In one week:


Day 1: Arrive in Santiago. Follow suggestions for day one in The Whirlwind itinerary. Days 2-3: Arrange a few tours of the vineyards in the Colchagua Valley, like Clos Apalta, Casa Silva or Montes to taste why Chile is now rivaling France as the world's top wine producer. Days 4-6: Head to Vi√Īa del Mar to walk the boardwalk, lay out on the beach, and take a dip in the Pacific. Then take a trip down the coast to Valpara√≠so for a day or two of wandering among the graffiti-covered buildings that twist up the hillsides, and stay for some of the best nightlife in Chile. Day 7: Return to Santiago.


In two weeks:


Day 1: Fly into Santiago. Days 2-3: The Vineyards. Follow suggestions for days 2-3 in the one-week itinerary. 4-6: For a taste of Argentina's offerings as well as a ride through the Andes on a road shaped like ribbon candy, take a bus to the tranquil town of Mendoza, just across the border. Days 7-10: Vi√Īa del Mar and Valpara√≠so. See days 4-6 in the one-week itinerary. Day 11: From Valpara√≠so, take a trip to Isla Negra, home of the Nobel-winning poet Pablo Neruda, and, working your way back to Santiago, visit Pomaire, famous for its cheap, handmade pottery. Days 12-14: Santiago. Follow suggestions for day one in The Whirlwind itinerary, but add a few more stops, like Barrio Bellavista (for a raucous night out) and the artisan market Santa Lucia.



To the End of the World

Patagonia's foreboding terrain, combined with the often-frigid temperatures, make it the ideal place for an adventurer to test his or her mettle.


In one week:


Day 1: From Santiago, catch a flight to Punta Arenas. Day 2: Take a bus north to Puerto Natales, your gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. Day 3: Bus tour through the park. You'll want to do more, but you only have a week. Day 4: Bus to El Calafate, Argentina. Day 5: Take a boat to the face of the Perito Moreno glacier. Days 6-7: Return to Puerto Natales, then to Punta Arenas to catch a flight back to Santiago.


*Alternatively, skip Perito Moreno and spend 3 days properly enjoying Torres del Paine. Either way, the distances involved make one week a very rushed Patagonian experience.


In two weeks:


Days 1-2: Same as one-week itinerary. Days 3-5: Torres del Paine. You'll want at least two days in Torres del Paine, and up to 10 if you plan to hike the infamous W or Circuit trails. Day 6: Take a bus across the Argentine border to El Calafate. Day 7: Boat trip to the face of the Perito Moreno glacier. Days 8-10: head still farther north to El Chaltén for a day or two hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy. Day 11: Back to El Calafate for a flight to Ushuaia. Day 12: Enjoy being in the southernmost city in the world. Days 13-14: Flight back to Punta Arenas, then back to Santiago.


*If your thirst for southern exposure is still unquenched in Ushuaia, and if time and spirit allow, take a ferry to Puerto Williams and finally to the desolate Parque Nacional Cabo de Hornos‚ÄĒand congratulations, you can officially go no farther south without being in Antarctica.


The Carretera Austral:


The Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) is a 1,240-kilometer (770-mi) dirt road that begins just south of Puerto Montt and ends in Villa O'Higgins in Southern Patagonia, passing through vast stretches of unpopulated and thickly forested terrain on the way. It's a famous challenge for bicyclists, but also a brag-worthy accomplishment for motorists; this is the truly pioneering way to see Patagonia. The itinerary is simple: rent a car and go. You'll find places to stop along the way for food, lodging, and adventure. You can start in Puerto Montt, but many travelers choose to skip this part and start in Chaiten, as the trip between the two involves many ferry crossings, which can be expensive. You'll want to plan at least two weeks for the trip, more if you don't want to be rushed. A few cushion days are advisable, as flat tires and breakdowns are a possibility.



The Nature-Lover

With its unique elongated shape, Chile is nearly an environmental cross-section of South America, providing the opportunity to experience an impressive diversity of nature and terrain.


In two weeks:


Day 1-2: Arrive in Santiago and head north to San Pedro de Atacama, by flying to nearby Calama. Days 2-4: Explore the world's driest desert while sleeping under the world's clearest skies. Days 5-6: Fly back to Santiago, then take an overnight bus to Chiloé. Days 7-9: Take a boat to the penguin colonies near Ancud, and walk through ancient forests and rolling dunes in the Parque Nacional Chiloé. Days 10-13: From Puerto Montt (just north of Chiloé), board a flight to Punta Arenas, then spend two days in Torres del Paine National Park, soaking in the grandeur of the mountains and glaciers. Day 14: Take an early flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago, to catch your late flight out of Santiago.


*If you've got some extra time and money, you can take a four-day ferry through the icy Patagonian archipelago from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, instead of flying from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Regional Summaries, Safety, Bargaining in Chile, Torres del Paine: Safety, Chile Internet access, WiFi and Internet cafes, Safety, Before You Go, Augusto Pinochet, Lakes District Border Crossings and Lago Yelcho.

By Kyle Adams
Kyle just graduated Syracuse University with degrees in magazine journalism and anthropology. After his summer with V!VA, he'll be starting Peace...
06 Jul 2009

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