Last Updated on March 18, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Explore the best of South America with an adventure-packed 2-week Chile itinerary from my friend and Chile expert, Steph Dyson.
It feels like the traveling community is only just waking up to the possibilities of Chile. A country that, until recently, was a mere footnote in most trips around South America. Although the high cost of travel here has put off many potential visitors, it’s become increasingly hard to ignore the allure of this diverse country.
With everything from ochre-colored deserts in the north, stark mountain landscapes of the Andes south and mysterious moai statues on Easter Island, it’s fair to say that there’s a whole lot to see on a trip to Chile.
My 2-Week Chile Itinerary
Let’s start with the obvious: Chile is a big country. If you flip it horizontally, Chile just about covers the entire width of the United States and you could fit three United Kingdoms inside its terrain.
If you’ve got limited time, it’s essential to plan your trip in advance. Before we look at our two-week Chile itinerary, here’s a short guide to give you an overview of travel in Chile.
How to Travel to Chile
Most nationalities can travel to Chile without a visa, including citizens from US, Canada, UK and the EU. Citizens of Australia and Mexico must pay a reciprocity fee on their first entry to Chile by air. Citizens of most other countries, such as the UK or the US, do not have to pay a fee. It’s best to check your country’s ministry of foreign affairs website for updated info on visa requirements.
The most common entry point for travelers is the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, commonly referred to simply as Santiago Airport), 15km (9.3 miles) north-west of downtown Santiago. The domestic and international are the same terminal, with the international on the left and domestic on the right.
Santiago Airport is served by several non-stop international service, mainly from Europe, the Americas and Oceania. LATAM Airlines is the largest carrier and has flights from the several cities in the Americas, Sydney, Auckland, Papeete, Frankfurt and Madrid. Here’s a look at all the airlines that fly to Chile.
You can also cross overland to Chile from Argentina by bus. For example, you can easily take a bus from Punta Arena, Chile, to El Calafate in Argentina. Here’s a useful 2-week Argentina itinerary if you’re planning to travel there as well!
How to Get Around Chile
Luckily, domestic flights are cheaper than in most other South American countries and this is often the fastest and easiest way of getting between destinations. Check out Jetsmart and Sky Airline for the cheapest fares; LATAM is more expensive but is the only company that flies to Easter Island. Search for domestic flights in Chile here.
Bus travel is another means of exploring Chile, although distances can be long and if you’re only here for two weeks, it’s probably better to spend a little bit more on flights than spend 24 hours+ traveling between destinations.
By Rental Car
If you’ve got a bit more time up your sleeve, consider hiring a camper van. Soul Vans have fully-equipped campers that start from 40,000 CLP (US$60) per day and you can often get a deal if you’re travelling slightly out of peak season (December through February).
For those planning to drive, I recommend getting a local SIM card in Chile or use an international SIM card to go online and use your GPS. I used GoSim which cost me $26 for 1GB of data and it worked really well in Chile.
CHILE ITINERARY DAY 1: SANTIAGO
It’s likely that you’ll arrive into Chile at the international airport in Santiago. Although this city has often found itself in the shadow of other capitals in South America (Buenos Aires, Lima and Quito mainly), Santiago is actually a really lively, European city and there’s plenty to see.
Your first stop should be the cable car up to Cerro San Cristobal (1,500 CLP = US$2.26) where beautiful views across the city await. There’s also a hiking trail that you can take up instead, although this isn’t recommended; lots of robberies have been reported on this route, so stick to the funicular.
Back in the centre of town, other top places to visit include the Plaza de Armas (the main square), a central feature of practically all South American towns and a good place to sit back and soak up santiaguino daily life, from the shoe shiners hawking business to the old men playing chess beneath the trees.
Stay at: Solace Santiago
This stylish modern hotel is located right near a metro stop in the Providencia district of Santiago. It’s just steps away from an array of restaurants and shops. Providencia is an excellent spot for those who love good food and wine. Solace Santiago also has a beautiful rooftop outdoor pool with stunning of the city.
CHILE ITINERARY DAY 2: EASTER ISLAND
Fly to Easter Island
Take a transfer or taxi back to the airport for an early morning flight to Easter Island. This 163 km² island sits over 3,000 miles off the coast of Chile, but still is considered part of their territory, although the two places couldn’t feel more different.
The flight from Santiago to Easter Island takes between five and six hours each way and costs around US$500 return. When you do, you’ll be struck by the tropical heat (this is Polynesia, after all) and the sense of being almost unimaginably far from any other piece of land. This is because Easter Island is one of the most isolated places on the planet.
Many travellers are put off by the price of getting here, however, it is possible to visit Easter Island more cheaply than you might think. Renting a hire car or a bike (although the latter can be sweat-inducing) can also grant you more flexibility to explore the sites at your own pace.
See the Moai of Easter Island
There’s plenty to see on this island of 887 moai, statues carved from volcanic stone that were erected on ceremonial platforms known as ahu along the coasts and, contrary to popular belief, stare back in and across the island.
The reason for this is that the statues were built to honour important community members or leaders and it was believed that when they died, their spirit would continue to watch over and protect their descendants. Read my guide on how to visit Easter Island.
Catch Sunset at Ahu Tahai
The only town on the island, Hanga Roa, is surrounded by moai statues. The most famous nearby is the Ahu Tahai, a set of three restored platforms containing differently-sized statues, one of which even has “eyes” made from coral and rock and that were believed to be used during ceremonies and special festivities.
This spot is also excellent for sunset, as the sun drops below the horizon almost directly behind the largest ahu, Ahu Vai Ure, which contains five moai in varying stages of erosion.
If visiting during summer, consider heading to another ahu nearby along the coast if you want good photos; this place gets jam-packed with tourists and you might find it loses the magic a little as a result.
Stay at: Hareswiss Easter Island Bungalows
There are plenty of options of places to stay here, however many are very expensive, particularly if you’re travelling in January or February when it’s high season. My favourite place on the island was Hareswiss Bungalows, a set of cabins run by a Swiss expat who knows loads about the history of Rapa Nui and even runs tours. Cabins have kitchen areas and little terraces overlooking the sea; it’s about a 25-minute walk from Hanga Roa (or a short taxi journey), which makes it feel even more special and tucked away.
CHILE ITINERARY DAY 3: EASTER ISLAND
See Sunrise at Ahu Togariki
Wake up early the next morning and drive out to Ahu Togariki, the island’s largest set of restored moai. Numbering 15, these statues are spectacular at sunrise, when the dawn breaks right behind them (although this only happens in summer – in winter, the sun rises a little further north).
Relax on Anakena Beach and Ahu Nau Nau
From here, head over to Anakena, a picturesque beach surrounded by coconut trees and lapped by warm waters, making it a great place to swim or sunbathe. It’s also the location of Ahu Nau Nau, a seven-moai platform, many of which are in an excellent state of preservation, meaning you can see the detailed carving of their faces and even on their backs.
There are plenty of other sites to stop at along the northern coast, although many contain moai that still lie on the floor. No one knows exactly why, but some time in the mid-1800s, the villagers began to topple the statues, leaving them face down in the earth.
Explore the volcanic Rano Raraku
Back around towards Ahu Tongariki lies perhaps the island’s most fascinating spot: Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater that was the location of the moai quarry. It was here that the statues were carved out of the rock and you can still see many still attached to the rock and left unfinished.
There’s thought to be almost 400 moai still here and many stand upright on the flanks of the volcano, with a path winding between. You can also climb up to the edge of the crater and see even more inside. For photography, the afternoon is the best time to go.
CHILE ITINERARY DAY 4: EASTER ISLAND
Visit the O’rongo ceremonial village
The southern coast of the island is full of fascinating destinations, the most notable of which is the O’rongo ceremonial village. To get here, you can either hike from Hanga Roa (two hours), take a tour or go by car.
O’rongo is a series of restored stone houses, half buried in the ground as a way of protecting them from the fierce winds that swirl around this headland. It was here that the Birdman Cult, a religious belief system that came into play after the toppling of the moai and the disintegration of the worship of the ancestors.
Each tribe would compete for their chief to become the tangata manu or spiritual leader of the island for the coming year and this would involve a competitor from the tribe being nominated to swim out through the surging waters to reach the islets that you can see from the village. There, they would be tasked with collecting the first-laid egg of the sooty tern, a bird that once nested here. If he successfully brought it back to the village – in one piece, of course – then his chief would win.
Just next to the village, you’ll also find Rano Kau, another volcanic crater. A number of viewpoints allow you to appreciate this impressive evidence of how Easter Island was formed – by eruptions from the three volcanoes that provided its rugged terrain.
CHILE ITINERARY DAY 5: EASTER ISLAND
Visit the Sebastián Englert Anthropological Museum
Most flights to mainland Chile depart in the early afternoon, which means you still have plenty of time to visit the P. Sebastián Englert Anthropological Museum, which has a great collection of items from across the island and explains in detail the social structure and religious belief of the Rapa Nui people and how on earth they carved and then moved the huge moai – a subject that continues to inspire debate among archaeologists and anthropologists.
Fly back to Santiago in the afternoon.
Stay at: Hotel Manquehue Aeropuerto Santiago
I would recommend staying near the Santiago Airport since you’ll be flying again the next morning. Hotel Manquehue Aeropuerto Santiago is the best hotel near the airport, with modern and comfortable rooms and free airport shuttles. Breakfast is included in your booking and it starts as early as 4.30am.
ITINERARY DAY 6: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Fly to Calama in the Atacama Desert
The next morning, it’s back to the airport (you’ll know it pretty well by now!) for a flight from Santiago to Calama, an unsightly mining city in the Atacama Desert, and the springboard for trips to San Pedro de Atacama. Transfer services leave directly from the arrivals hall of the airport and take you the one and a half hours east to the town. Book your domestic flight here.
San Pedro de Atacama is best known for its picture-perfect, high-altitude landscapes. Bear in mind that it’s situated at 2,408m above sea-level and so it’s worth taking it easy for the first day or two as you get acclimatized. Many of the most interesting sights in Atacama are situated at even high altitudes.
Rent a Car or Book Day Tours
Tours are easy enough to organise to all of the following places; the main street through the town is bursting with agencies who run pretty much the same trips for similar prices. For significant savings, visit a couple of agencies and ask for quotes for a package of tours – you’ll get money off for booking more than one from a company.
An alternative way of exploring the region – and one I personally preferred when I visited – is by hiring a car. Rental is cheapest from Calama and the added flexibility allows you to explore even the region even more easily.
See Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche
On your first night in San Pedro, you should have time to hop on a tour or drive out to Laguna Tebinquinche. This salt-lined lake is a prime spot for sunset, as the fading light hues its edges with shades of pastel pink and the undulating mountains and volcanos east afford a spectacular backdrop for photos.
Stay at: Ckuri Atacama
San Pedro has plenty of accommodation options. My favourite is by far Ckuri Atacama, a tiny little B&B built in adobe (mud bricks) and with beautiful textiles on the wall, large bathrooms and even a small, private dining space for each room. The straw roofs and terracotta-colored walls create a rustic atmosphere. Breakfast isn’t included but it comes with a fridge, plates and cutlery, so you can just prepare your own.
ITINERARY DAY 7: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Explore El Tatio Geysers
Officially the highest geyser field on earth, the El Tatio Geysers are best visited at dawn. Driving here can be a little challenging (the roads aren’t well marked, so get hold of a good map or use maps.me on your phone) but it’s worth it to see the spirals of steam unfurling from the ground in the cold light of the morning.
You can walk between the different pools of boiling hot water but watch your step; a number of tourists have died or received life-threatening burns by getting too close and stepping through flimsy earth and into the water.
There are hot springs in the complex but they’re actually quite cold, as only pockets of thermal waters exist. You’re better off heading to the Termas de Puritima (Entrance is 19,500 Chilean Peso = US$29) on your way back and spending the day luxuriating in these gorgeously warm waters, which are also alleged to have healing properties.
ITINERARY DAY 8: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Visit Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques
South east of San Pedro de Atacama and reached by an hour and a half’s drive, the pastel-blue lagoons, Miscanti and Miñiques are a pair of pretty, saline lakes where, in the surrounding puna, you’ll likely spot guanaco (wild alpaca), vizcachas (chinchilla-like rodents) and even foxes.
On the way back to San Pedro and accessed by a turn off just before the village of Toconao, Laguna Chaxa is another stunning saline lake, this time filled with flamingos. Home to all three of the species found in South America, James’s, Chilean and Andean, the lake is an important breeding ground for the birds. There’s also blinding views of the Salar de Atacama, a large salt flat.
ITINERARY DAY 9: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Explore Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte
Just about eight kilometres west of San Pedro, Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is perhaps one of the region’s most famous sights. You can get there easily by bike (just remember to pack plenty of water, a sun hat and sunscreen – this is the desert after all) and, if you want the tumbling ridges of red-coloured sand dunes all to yourself, aim to get there mid-morning or early afternoon.
The tour groups arrive for sunrise and sunset, as the views of the sun plummeting behind the dunes are particularly striking.
Some five kilometres northeast and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) is another set of plunging sand banks, but this time a good place for sandboarding or even horse riding. Both activities you organize with agencies in town.
Go Star Gazing at SPACE
Celestial conditions in the skies above San Pedro are considered the best in the world, making it an ideal spot for star gazing. You can organize your own tour (just head out into the desert one night and stare up) or go with one of the professionals.
Space star tours are considered the best, as they have the largest public observatory in South America and will talk you through the history of the different constellations. They book up fast, so make sure you reserve at least a week in advance.
From San Pedro de Atacama, take the transfer service back to Calama and fly to Santiago. If possible, have another flight lined up directly to Punta Arenas to avoid having to return into Santiago and back to the airport the following morning.
ITINERARY DAY 10: PUNTA ARENAS
Fly to Punta Arenas
The next part of this Chile itinerary takes you to Patagonia, the southern tip of Chile! The flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas takes around three hours and transfer services from just outside the airport in Punta Arenas can you drop you off at your hotel for around 5,000 CLP (US$8.50).
Punta Arenas is often overlooked by travellers who head straight on to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park. However, this city was formerly inhabited by rich wool barrens, who left European architecture in their wake.
You’ll want to visit Museo Regional de Magallanes, which has an interesting collection of 19th-century furniture and information about the Spanish arrival to this southern edge of Chile, as well as the indigenous people who once lived here and who navigated through the freezing waters in canoes carved from tree trunks.
If you have time and visit between November and March, organise a half-day trip out to Isla Magdalena, a 120,000-strong Magellanic penguin colony a few hours’ boat journey from the city. Beware that the waters can be powerful –seasickness pills are recommended.
Stay at: Hotel Tierra del Fuego
Hotel Tierra del Fuego is an elegant European-style hotel right in downtown Punta Arenas, one block away from the Magellan Museum. If you’re looking for some comfort after trekking, this is a great place to unwind and chill out.
Hostal Pardo & Shackleton is a good budget choice in Punta Arenas, with a kitchen and spacious communal area, a good breakfast and really friendly staff. The rooms are fairly basic but comfortable enough.
ITINERARY DAY 11: PUNTA ARENAS
Head to Puerto Natales
The next day, catch a bus to Puerto Natales, a town three-hours north and the gateway for the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park. Read my detailed guide to Torres del Paine Chile.
If you’ve got more than two weeks, then consider hiking the acclaimed Torres del Paine W trek, a four or five-day walk through splendid, wild Patagonian scenery. There’s not loads to do in town, but you should take a walk along the sound (the town is built on the edge of fjord) where you can often spot aquatic birds and the occasional dolphin playing in the water.
Stay at: Yagan House
Yagan House is a stylish hostel-cum-hotel in Puerto Natales, with really cosy, comfortable and clean bedrooms and a huge common area with kitchen and sofas. They’re well located in the centre of the town and really knowledgeable about the park. You can book excursions from their tour office as well as massages from the reception.
ITINERARY DAY 12: TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK
Explore Torres del Paine
The night before, rent a car for two days (from 40,000 CLP daily) and leave as early as possible to get there (it’s a two-hour drive). Although there is plenty of public transport into Torres del Paine, it’s hard to move between the trailheads unless you’re hiking the full W trek. For shorter trips when you don’t have time to do the full walk, it’s significantly easy to have your own wheels. Make sure you bring cash to pay the 21,000 CLP (US$31) entrance fee.
Leave the car parked outside one of the two accommodations below and hike the nine kilometres to reach the mirador for the towers or torres after which the park is named. It’s a steep, continually climbing hike, so make sure you have good hiking boots and plenty of food and water. It’s about four hours up and three down.
Stay at: EcoCamp Patagonia
Stay the night at EcoCamp Patagonia, a charming eco-friendly camp with geodesic domes inspired by the ancient dwellings of the region. The sustainable domes are all fitted with private or shared bathrooms, wood stoves and private terraces.
A complimentary buffet breakfast is served in the dining room while drinks can be enjoyed at the bar, lounge or outdoor terrace. Guests travelling with all inclusive rates are served a complimentary lunch and dinner, otherwise these are available for an extra fee.
Another alternative is the more luxurious Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, which starts at 300,000 CLP (US$450) per night for a double room, and has a restaurant on site. Both are overpriced – but so is everything in the park!
ITINERARY DAY 13: TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK
Hike Glacier Grey
Drive over to the Pudeto catamaran dock where you can park the car and board the 9am boat across Lago Pehoé ($18,000 single, $28,000 return, cash only) to reach Paine Grande, where the trail for Glacier Grey starts.
It’s a four-hour hike to reach a mirador situated about a kilometre from the snout of the glacier; expect impressive views and lots of ice crashing into the water below.
You can also join a kayaking tour that gets even closer to the ice or a day’s trekking on its surface, although you’ll need another day in the park to fit this in. Big Foot Patagonia Adventure are the only company that offer these.
Trek back to Paine Grande, get on the final catamaran of the day (6.35pm) and bid farewell to Torres del Paine.
Stay at: Vinnhaus
Another option in Puerto Natales is the trendy Vinnhaus, a place offering hotel style and comfort, but with hostel prices and atmosphere. All bedrooms are dressed with antique-style furniture, there are international plug sockets on the wall and a lovely little attached café where you can chat away to other guests.
ITINERARY DAY 14: SANTIAGO
You’ll need a full day to get back to Santiago, with the return journey to Punta Arenas from Puerto Natales taking three hours and then a further three hours on the plane from Punta Arenas to Santiago.
That’s the end of your Chile adventure! With this two-week Chile itinerary, you would have seen the best of the country at a quick but exciting pace. I hope by the end of the journey, you would have fallen in love with Chile like I have.
About the Author: Steph Dyson
Steph Dyson is a bilingual freelance travel writer, guidebook author and blogger originally from the UK and now based in Santiago, Chile. Having travelled and volunteered across South America since 2014, she writes about beyond-the-beaten-trail adventures, using her extensive experience of exploring (and getting lost in) this continent. She’s been published by World Nomads and Time Out and contributed to the Rough Guide to Peru and South America on a Budget. Her latest project is a full update of the guidebook, Moon Chile. Get more travel tips for South America at Worldly Adventurer, on Facebook and Instagram.
Inspired? Pin it!