Chile has something for everyone! From the Atacama desert in the north to Patagonia in the south, and everything in between, Chile is truly one of the most diverse landscapes I have seen in all the places I have been to so far. 12 days in Chile is barely enough time to scratch the surface of this beautiful country, which is also one of the longest in the world. However, if 12 days is all you have got, then this post covers an itinerary for 12 days in Chile. I want to go back to Chile again one day and have already added it to my “repeat” list. Like with me, I’m sure Chile will make you wanting to come back for more!
Notes on the Itinerary
- This itinerary for 12 days in Chile can be broken down into 3 main sections 1. Santiago or close by trips 2. Patagonia 3. Atacama Desert
- Feel free to mix up the order of these section (i.e., instead of Santiago, Patagonia and Atacama, you could do Atacama, Santiago, Patagonia)
- Days within Patagonia and the Atacma Desert can be mixed up and done in any order
- Feel free to customize as needed (i.e., If you don’t want to do long hikes, you can do 2 days in Torres del Paine instead of 3)
Day 1 – Valparaiso (Night in Valparaiso or Vina del Mar)
After arriving early morning and picking up a rental car, I drove straight to Valparaiso for the day. Valparaiso is about 1.5 hours away from Santiago on the Pacific coast. This colorful, coastal city is one of the south Pacific’s most important seaports. However, in my opinion, its vibrant street art is really the highlight of a visit to Valparaiso.
Sites Not to Miss in Valparaiso
- View street art – see below for a post where I cover where to see the best street art
- Ride one or many of the funiculars that help people traverse the 40+ hills of Valparaiso
After visiting Valparaiso, head over to Vina del Mar in the evening for a quick stroll and dinner. You can spend the night either in Valparaiso or in Vina del Mar.
Day 2 – Casablanca Valley (Night in Santiago)
Casablanca is located between the pacific ocean and Santiago. This 30 km stretch of wineries is an important wine producing region in Chile. Casablanca valley is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Most of the wineries in the Casablanca Valley are close to each other and therefore, you can visit a few in a day. However, you have to call ahead of time to make reservations for tours and tastings.
If you don’t want to spend a full day in Casablanca, you can easily drive to Vina del Mar if you stayed in Valparaiso the previous night or explore a little more of Vina del Mar if you stayed there overnight. Or you could also go to Santiago early.
Day 3 – Maipo Valley (Night in Santiago)
Take a day trip to the Maipo Valley today. The Maipo Valley is another very important wine producing region in Chile. Unlike Casablanca, the Maipo Valley is a little more spread out so you may not be able to visit as many wineries. However, like the Casablanca Valley, advance bookings are a must.
Drop off your rental car this day, as you really don’t need it for the next day or day 4 of this 12 days in Chile itinerary.
Day 4 – Santiago (Night in Santiago)
The capital city of Chile, Santiago, sits in a valley surrounded by the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range. Santiago is colorful, modern and easy to get around. I found I was able to see everything I wanted to in a day. It also helped that I went to some sites in Santiago after the winery visits each evening. If you have more than 12 days to spare, you could stagger your time in Santiago to 2 days.
What not to miss in Santiago
- Plaza de Armas
- Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral
- Santa Lucía Hill
- Sky Costanera
- Barrio Bellavista
- Peumayén Ancestral Food
Day 5 – Punta Arenas (Night in Puerto Natales)
Catch an early morning flight to Punta Arenas. This southern city is considered to be the gateway to Antarctica from Chile. The best things to do here is to visit Isla Magdalena and the penguin colony on the island. This is a half day trip. You can spend the rest of the day exploring this colorful and compact city.
If you are not interested in visiting the penguin colony, then I think Punta Arenas is probably skippable. However, one reason you may want to come to Punta Arenas is because it has more frequent flights than Puerto Natales if you are visiting Patagonia. Punta Arenas also has cheaper car rentals than Puerto Natales. If you don’t mind making a 3 hour drive from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, then you may want to fly into Punta Arenas, hire a car, see penguins and make the journey north to Puerto Natales and Patagonia.
Day 6 – Torres del Paine (Night in Torres del Paine)
Remember that you can do days 6-8 listed below in any order. With just 12 days in Chile, you will not have enough time to do the full O circuit or the W trek. However, you can hit the highlights of the W. You will need to add 1 more day to this itinerary, if you want to see the Grey glacier by boat AND also hike to the lookout point. Also remember that you can cut down on the number of days in Torres del Paine if you are not into long hikes. If this is the case, stagger day 6 into 2 days and take things slow. You can add that extra day to the Atacama desert or Santiago.
Lookout Points and Short Hikes not to miss
- Grey Glacier boat tour
- Mirador Salto Chico
- Salto Grande Waterfall
- Mirador Cóndor
- Mirador Cuernos
- Mirador Nordenskjöld
Day 7 – Mirador las Torres (Night in Torres del Paine)
Visit the crown jewel of Torres del Paine National park on this day. Base Torres or Base Towers or Mirador las Torres is a hike up to the three towers that give Torres del Paine its name. This is a 20km/13 mile hike and is categorized as “difficult” but it is also most fun!
Day 8 – French Valley (Night in Torres del Paine or Puerto Natales)
The French Valley hike is another popular and long hike in Torres del Paine. Technically on the W but you can definitely do it as a day hike. The only call out is that you will have to take a ferry from the Pudeto Ferry Station to Paine Grande to start the hike. If the weather is crazy, then this may cause delays in the ferry crossing and ultimately cut down on how much of the hike you can complete. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful hike even if you don’t make it all the way to the French Valley lookout.
Day 9 – Patagonian Fjords (Night in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas)
This was one of my favorite days on this 12 days in Chile, Itinerary. Most people think of Torres del Paine when they think of Chilean Patagonia, but there’s more to Patagonia in Chile than just Torres del Paine National Park.
This day starts in Puerto Natales and consists of a day tour sailing through the fjords of Patagonia. You will see snow capped mountains, beautiful waterfalls, plenty of rainbows and 2 mighty glaciers. The tour also stops was a farm for a delicious meal. You will be back in Puerto Natales around 4 pm.
Spend this night in the place you are catching your flight from the next morning. Pick the earliest possible flight because you will have to connect in Santiago.
Day 10 – Atacama Desert (Night in San Pedro de Atacama)
The Atacama desert is the driest non-polar place on earth. It’s also home to high altitude salt flats, flamingos, otherworldly landscapes and some of the best star gazing in the world. As I mentioned in my notes on this 12 days in Chile itinerary, feel free to mix up the order of the dates for the next 3 days. However, you may want to be careful if you want to swap the sites and places to see within these days. This is because distances are great in Atacama and there is only 1 fuel station for miles.
Sites to see on day 10
- Valle de la Luna – there are a lot of sites within Valle de la Luna. Expect to spend some time here. You also need to book this visit in advance (see my post above for more)
- Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache
Day 11 – Atacama Desert (Night in San Pedro de Atacama)
This day, you will be seeing sites south of San Pedro de Atacama. Today will be a long day so start early. You need to book 3 of the 4 places listed below in advance. My linked post above details all the information
- Lagunas Altiplánicas
- Piedras Rojas
- Laguna Chaxa
- Stargazing Tour
Day 12 – Atacama Desert (Night in San Pedro de Atacama or Santiago)
Today is also an early start followed by a day full of water related activities. You can spend the night in Atacama or fly back to Santiago to catch your flight back home.
- Geysers el Tatio
- Puritama Hot Springs
- Lagunas Cejar and Piedras
- Laguna Tebinquinche and Ojos del Salar
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