Museums, Moai and Mountains: The Best of Chile
We're not exaggerating when we say that Chile's landscapes are breathtaking. This long thin country packs a punch when it comes to diversity, from the quaint cobbles of Valparaiso to the dramatic mountain scenery of Torres del Paine. Easter Island, also part of Chile, is more than worth the long detour.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Explore the capital with a city tour of Santiago
- Get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of Valparaiso
- Unravel the mystery surrounding the famous moai of Easter Island
- Hike amid the awe-inspiring scenery of Torres del Paine National Park
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Day 1: Arrival in Santiago
When have arrive in Chile's capital, Santiago, you will be privately transferred to your hotel where you can check in and relax after the flight, before heading out to one of the many nearby cafes for a bite to eat.
Santiago is one of Latin America's safest cities and in places has a very European feel. We will recommend the best places for lunch in our detailed destination Dossier.
The nearby Bellavista district has an arty, bohemian feel and it's no surprise to find the National Museum of Fine Arts here too. Return to the hotel for a pisco sour cocktail, Chile's national drink, on the terrace.
Day 2: Exploring Santiago
A privately guided city tour has been arranged today to give you a flavour of what Santiago has to offer.
The historic downtown area is close to the hotel, and there you'll see the cathedral and distinctive presidential quarters known as La Moneda. Later, explore the captivating neighbourhoods of Republica, Concha y Toro and Lastarria with a local guide to fill you in on their history. Call in at the whimsical Las Chascona, now a museum, which was once the home of acclaimed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Browse the local produce on sale at the Mercado Central, famed for its fancy ironwork. Finally, ascend the funicular to Cerro Cristobal for phenomenal views across the city.
Day 3: Day out in Valparaiso
Valpo's a charmer, and you'll soon see why. It's an easy run from Santiago making this a popular choice for a day trip.
Accompanied by a private guide, you'll drive through some of Chile's famed wine country. Arriving in colourful Valparaiso, your city tour will showcase some of the city's most popular attractions, including the captivating barrios of Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre, Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana, and of course the ascensores or elevators that link the upper and lower town. Strolling along Valpo's cobbles is an absolute delight and you'll also enjoy a tasty lunch in one of its many restaurants.
Day 4: Fly to Easter Island
How did a thousand enormous stone statues come to be abandoned on a remote Pacific Island? This is the mystery that has fascinated travellers lucky enough to have visited this incredible place, a five-hour flight west of the Chilean mainland.
You'll be met at Hanga Roa airport and transferred to your sophisticated hotel where you'll enjoy a three night stay. Relax in luxurious settings as you read up on the moai stone heads. Most face inwards, testament to the islanders' belief that they were the only people on the planet and thus attack would come from within. Get your first glimpse in Hanga Roa as you head down to the cliff top for sunset overlooking Ahu Vai Uri.
Day 5: Explore Easter Island
Head out on an island tour this morning. It's worth rising before dawn to watch the sun come up behind the fifteen stones of Ahu Tongariki.
Return to the hotel for a leisurely breakfast and then set off again. Highlights include the beach and stones at Anakena in the north of the island. This sandy beach is fringed with palm trees giving it a tropical feel. Don't be fooled - they were imported years ago from distant neighbour Tahiti. Pay a visit to the Rano Raraku quarry where stones lie partially carved and abandoned. Return to the hotel via Ahu Akivi. Its seven moai differ from the others on the island as they face the sea. Return to the hotel in time for dinner.
Day 6: Discover More of Easter Island
The moai, though Easter Island's signature sight, are only half the story on this isolated volcanic island. Today, find out about the people who made this remote place their home.
Rano Kau is your starting point - a vast volcanic crater that's situated in the south of the island. The colours pop: a cobalt caldera lake against slopes carpeted with lime green vegetation. Hike the crater rim to reach Orongo, an ancient ceremonial village and site of the Tangata Manu (birdman) competition. Men once competed to be the first to swim out to the islet of Moto Nui, retrieve a sooty tern egg and clamber back up the cliff to Orongo.
Day 7: Return to the Mainland
Easter Island's tiny airport receives few flights, which means it can afford to be a little more relaxed when it comes to gate arrangements.
Airside takes on a whole other meaning when you can seat yourselves outside and sip a drink as you wait for your connection back to the mainland.
Back in Santiago, you'll be met by a driver who will take you back to the now familiar surroundings of your hotel.
Day 8: Onwards to Punta Arenas
Today you'll get a sense of how long Chile is! From Santiago in the centre of the country, you'll board a three-and-a-half-hour flight to the southern city of Punta Arenas.
A driver will be there to meet you for your transfer to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, one of the gems in Chile's many-studded crown. The journey takes over four hours, but the scenery is unforgettable, particularly the final stretch up to the national park. Your base is one of the handful of superb lodges that pride themselves on attentive service and offers a range of excursions and activities designed to showcase their surroundings.
Day 9: Experience Patagonia
Patagonia is a vast region straddling the border between Chile and its neighbour Argentina. Torres del Paine National Park is the highlight of Chilean Patagonia.
You can't miss the three granite peaks which give the park its name but they adorn a spectacularly beautiful landscape characterised by mountain lakes, mountain pastures and cascading waterfalls. Even from the roadside you'll spot wild guanaco grazing and if you're lucky you may also catch a glimpse of the ostrich-like rhea, mountain pumas and shy deer. Explora is located on the shore of Lake Pehoe and this makes for a great orientation hike. Pass wild orchids on the way to a lofty vantage point overlooking the lake and Paine Ridge.
Day 10: The Spectacular Torres del Paine
Serious hikers tackle the five day 'W' hike but savvy visitors know that some of the shorter hikes afford views that are equally impressive.
We recommend that you travel to the Cerro Paine ranch by hotel minibus and, in the company of an accomplished guide, begin a walk that follows the base of Almirante Nieto. From there, hug the shore of Lake Nordenskjold to tackle the demanding ascent to the beginning of the Bader Valley. The prize is an unfettered view of the famous Cuernos del Paine - meaning horns - these jagged peaks are, after the Torres, the park's most recognisable landmarks. To cap it off a trio of lakes - Pehoe, Sarmiento and Nordenskjold - are laid out before you.
Day 11: Grey Glacier
Glaciers are responsible for the sculpted valleys and hidden lakes that dot the landscape in Torres del Paine National Park. The mother of them all is the Grey Glacier and today we suggest you take to the water to get a close up look.
This enormous slab of ice measures four miles wide in places and towers thrity metres above the ground. Sail towards this giant wall of blue ice and get almost within touching distance. As the captain kills the engines, you'll hear the audible cracking of ice as it creaks and calves when it comes into contact with the water. The deep cerulean blue of the ice is a result of immense pressure squeezing the ice and it's one of the most photogenic sights in the park.
Day 12: Return Home
Sadly it's time to leave Chile and make your way home.
A private transfer by car will get you as far as Punta Arenas airport. You will then catch a domestic flight north to Santiago and from there you'll start your journey home.
Ollie and Kate B are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.