Chile, the inconceivable land. A stretch of land that patches together the most diverse and unique landscapes. If you’re a city animal, you’ll love to live the life in and around the capital; nature lovers are certainly split between the dry deserts in the north, and the rugged icy mountains in the south. Our itinerary for 2 and 3 weeks in Chile isn’t a promise for everything – you’ll have to make a choice. But whichever direction you decide, we’re sure you will love the country. When you’re hundreds of kilometres and a dozen of bus rides older, everything will find its meaning on the horizon.
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2 weeks in Chile without taking the plane
Well, no. Getting yourself a return ticket to Chile doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see all of the country’s attractions. Especially in such a short time, and even more so if you only have 10 days in Chile; if you had 2 months in Chile, then maybe.
Let’s just consider 2 of the main highlights: Patagonia and the Atacama desert. They’re more than 2,500 km away (1,600 mi). In Europe, that’s the equivalent of a journey from Lisbon to Prague, crossing 5 different countries and 2 time zones. How long would it take you to visit Portugal, Spain, France, Germany and maybe Switzerland, before reaching the Czech Republic? Hopefully a tad longer than 3 weeks.
What we want to say is that visiting a place shouldn’t be based on borders, but on distances. In other words, we shouldn’t be visiting countries, but regions. Some say that’s the idea behind slow travel – for us it just makes sense.
In this situation, it means that visiting Mendoza from Santiago –which are less than 400 km apart– makes more sense than jumping to the other side of the country.
Therefore, your 2-week itinerary as a first-timer in that part of the world could perfectly look like this:
- 5 days in and around Santiago: also exploring the wine region and Maipo Canyon
- 4 days on the coast and at the beach, in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
- 4 days in Argentina: Mendoza and its vineyards, the mountain town of Uspallata and a day hike at the Aconcagua
But if you’re ready to spend a few nights on the bus, our itineraries below will bring you to different latitudes…
Chile itinerary 2 weeks
This itinerary brings you to the central region around Santiago, and to the north of the country: Valle del Elqui the stargazer’s paradise, and Atacama, the famous otherworldly land. Considering its location, Atacama can be perfectly combined to a salt flats Bolivia Chile itinerary.
Depending on your travel mood, you can spend your time soaking in the urban life of Santiago either at the beginning or at the end of this loop circuit; or you could also split it.
|Days 7-9||La Serena & Valle del Elqui:|
|Days 13-14||Santiago or nearby|
2 weeks in Chile itinerary
As usual, we imagine that you fly to Santiago and from there again. This overland itinerary is therefore built as a loop.
This route involves 2 long bus rides to and from the distant Atacama. Don’t worry though, buses in Chile are very comfortable and the semi-reclining seats allow you to spend decent nights for an affordable price. In a way, the long distance increases the feeling of getting to a different planet.
3 days in Santiago
Santiago de Chile is a large and modern metropolis. It’s full of museums, street art, neoclassical buildings, crowds, street food, and everything a large and modern metropolis can offer.
Our favourite districts for a stroll, a cake or a drink are:
- Bellavista, for the chilled vibes, the colourful streets and the many going-out options
- Brazil, for the street art and the local life on Plaza Brazil
- Bellas Artes, for all the trendy shops and bars, and the lively street life in the evenings
If you’re interested in museums, we highly recommend the fascinating Museum of Pre-Columbian art, near the main square. It’s a comprehensive display of the many Indigenous groups all around Chile and Latin America in general. It explains their traditions, beliefs and customs in such words that it makes it all seem pretty much alive today. Ah, it’s free on the first Sunday of the month by the way.
Cerro Santa Lucía gives a bucolic view on the city; but for a longer (and of course more rewarding) hike, climb up Cerro San Cristóbal, the city’s lung, with its infamous Madonna at the top.
Santiago is very widespread, so wherever you dwell there, you’re bound to take the metro. It runs smoothly and efficiently, but you’ll need to buy a Bip! top-up card, available at any station.
Read more: Things to do in Santiago
3 days in Valparaíso
We warn you straight away: we fell in love with Valparaíso. And if you’re anything like us and like what is not precisely clean and tidy, you will too. This harbour and university town, a 2-hour bus ride from the capital, is the vibrant city par excellence.
Full of cultural events, alternative venues, street art, re-purposed abandoned factories, vegan or community-run cafes, historical buildings… there’s enough life here to keep you busy for a week. Set it across a handful of hills and along the Pacific shoreline. Sprinkle it with a series of exquisite viewpoints. Add in some lazy sea lions and a couple of nearby beaches. And you get Valparaíso –or Valpo as Chileans call it– a UNESCO world heritage site that is Chile’s cultural capital.
Read more: Things to do in Valparaíso
Viña del Mar is as different from Valparaíso as it is near. They literally touch but seem like worlds apart. Cleaner, tidier, less of a labyrinth, it’s a very enjoyable day trip; there are buses connecting the two cities all day. A bit further still, Concón offers a better beach, a surfing spot and cool dunes for sand-boarding and sunset-watching.
steal swap a book at your hostel and take a night bus.
3 days in La Serena & Valle del Elqui
La Serena, with a long promenade along the ocean but the town centre 2 km inland, is not particularly attractive. Except maybe for a night out. We might be biased though: we were there with friends and had the craziest night of our trip. Or so we gathered from our very blurry memories…
Anyway, the centre is small but rather lively and there’s a cool food truck place somewhere. We’re sure you’ll stumble upon it sooner or later.
The real attraction lies even more inland, deep within what is called Valle del Elqui. If you manage to rent a car for a few days, that will give you valuable freedom. Otherwise, take a bus to the main town of Vicuña (a large village, really), or further to Pisco Elqui.
Elqui Valley is famous for 4 things: one of the purest skies in the country, a real paradise for stargazers; a strong energetic place with a deep meaning for ancient tribes and modern mystics; the birthplace of Gabriela Mistral, the 1st Latin-American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature; and the production of pisco, a national brandy made of grapes.
You can therefore visit an observatory or go on an astrophotography tour; see ancient petroglyphs or visit for free a remote Buddhist temple (Estupa de la Iluminación) outside Cochiguaz; visit Mistral’s home in Vicuña or her school in Montegrande; or do a guided tour of a pisco factory and learn how to prepare pisco sour.
Read more: Things to do in the Elqui Valley
3 days in the Atacama
You’ve made it. After a 15-hour bus ride from La Serena, with probable change in Calama, you made it to the nondescript visitors’ hub that is San Pedro de Atacama. A hamlet you know for sure would be completely empty if it wasn’t for the tourist dollars flowing all year.
Visiting the Atacama is stressful because there’s a lot to see; and expensive because, for the great majority of the places, you need to book a tour. But hell is it worth it! It gathers the most unique landscapes: salt flats and salt lakes, geysers and natural hot pools, deserts, colourful lakes… These places remind of the vastness of some national parks in North America.
Among the highlights on the Atacama planet, we recommend Valle de la Luna, Geysers del Tatio and the Lagunas escondidas.
We advise you to prepare well before getting there, so you know what you want to see. Take a bus that arrives in the morning of the next day, so you can already go on a tour in the afternoon. Agencies will tell you to start off with a tour that’s in low altitude, so you acclimatise on the 1st day; follow their advice.
It would be a bad idea to visit the Atacama in high season, from December to February. It gets ridiculously crowded and prices await you with a nasty grin, if you see what I mean. But if you’re set on doing so, book your accommodation beforehand. During the rest of the year, there’s no need for that.
Start planning: What to see in the Atacama region
Last day in or near Santiago
There are many pretty places around Santiago that are perfect for a day trip:
- do a wine tour in one of the several wine regions: the Maipo valley, the Aconcagua valley, the Casablanca valley
- spend a day out in the nature, hiking, rafting or horse riding at the Maipo Canyon (“Cajón del Maipo“)
- trek to the mountain through the Altos de Cantillana nature reserve
Read more day getaways around Santiago, on The Lost Passport
Or just rest your tired legs from the very long bus ride back from the Atacama; and your eyes from the manifold impressions of your 2 weeks in Chile!
Chile itinerary 3 weeks
This 3-week itinerary brings you from Santiago to the southern part of Chile, halfway down through picturesque Patagonia. It’s going crescendo into the adventure, leaving the cities behind to dive slowly into wild and unspoiled nature.
If you wanted to go down the whole way, you would need at least one more week of travel; or maybe come back for a standalone Patagonia itinerary in both Chile and Argentina.
|Days 7-8||Santa Cruz:|
|Days 16-18||Coyhaique :|
|Days 19-20||Puerto Varas:|
3 weeks in Chile itinerary
We did our best to break down the long bus rides which cover no less than 1,700 km (1,600 mi). The longest journey you’ll have is 10h, including several changes, to come back from Coyhaique to Puerto Varas.
3 days in Santiago
See the 2 week Chile itinerary above.
3 days Valparaiso & Vina del Mar
If you’ve already been to Valparaíso before, or if the description above doesn’t hook you, there is a whole list of natural places to explore near the city. Read about them in this post, then hop on a 6-hour day bus journey to Chile’s best wine region.
2 days in Santa Cruz
There are several wine regions in Chile, one of the most recognised being the Colchagua Valley, between Rancagua and Talca. It’s home to many wineries that open their doors to visitors, as long as they pay.
You could easily choose San Fernando as a base for your wine tour; but the small Santa Cruz is prettier, more rural and closer to the uncorking action. There’s also a Wine Train (“Tren del Vino“) going around several wineries –but that seems exceedingly touristic to us.
Once you’ve tasted all the varietals of the terroir (or shortly before), lie down on a night bus to Temuco.
2 days in Temuco
This Chile trip itinerary is smoothly pushing you, step by step, into the wildest of the country’s natural landscapes. Departing from the urban life and after visiting a wine valley, you’re now getting introduced to the beautiful Araucanía region. Here starts the country’s Lake District, a rugged land of high-altitude lakes and volcanoes.
The Conguillío National Park lies less than 2 hours away from Temuco, at the foot of the Andes. It’s a photogenic landscape of volcanoes and lakes (of course) that offers a perfect setting for all levels of hikers. The most adventurous can climb up Volcan Llaima, or roam the area on mountain bikes.
Hike to your heart’s content before taking a direct night bus to the town of Castro.
3 days on the Chiloé Islands
The Chiloé archipelago was certainly one of our highlights while we were backpacking Chile and Argentina. Imagine a rainy scenery of hilly islands connected by ferries and home to some of the smallest fishermen villages. Add UNESCO-listed wooden churches, colourful boats and probably the friendliest people in the whole country.
Castro is the main town and a perfect central base to discover the splash of islands. To the west, the Chiloé National Park offers several hikes through different types of vegetation. You could even trek through the dense park and spend a night alone on a beach.
To the north near Ancud, you can take a half-a-day tour to see penguins lazying on the cliffs. Dalcahue is also a pretty little town with a crafts market. For the smaller islands, the best is to follow your nose, the wind, or whatever is the most random at the moment.
And to go from one point to the other, nothing easier than holding your thumb on the side of the road. Unless a tsunami takes you (and they’re frequent here), you’ll love your time on Chiloé!
2 days in Chaitén
From Castro to Chaitén, you can either plan to cross on the 5-hour direct ferry, but that’s only on Sundays and subject to weather conditions; or take a more frequent 4-hour bus.
And there you are, at last. In mythical Patagonia, the land of fjords and glaciers, the land of imposing mountains and millennial forests. Adventure travel at its best.
Chaitén, which was covered in volcanic ashes in 2008, is a perfect base for many hikes in the region; most of them go through the Parque Nacional Pumalín and can be done in a day; for example, the short adventure hike to the volcano crater.
Honestly, you could cut this Chile itinerary short and revel in this wonderful area without travelling further south; we wouldn’t blame you! Otherwise, face the wilderness of the Carretera Austral, that dives into the remotest of places you’ll ever find while backpacking through Chile.
Start dreaming: Here are some photos of the Pumalín Park on its official website
3 days in Coyhaique
From Chaitén, there’s a night bus driving only twice a week to Coyhaique. This mere fact already puts a tint of adventure to any Patagonia travel. The more South you venture, the trickier transportation becomes and the wilder and more impressive Nature gets.
There are several playgrounds for nature lovers around Coyhaique; and it’s possible to simply hike out of town and be mesmerised in less than an hour. But the main landmark lies 1 hour by bus to the South, under the name of Cerro Castillo national reserve. It gets a bit busy in summer (although not nearly as much as Torres del Paine National Park) so book your bus seat in advance.
The reserve’s 50-km (30-mi) trail goes through enchanted forests with a constant mountain background that could perfectly fit the wildest scenes in Lord of the Rings. Enough said. It’s possible to camp inside, in designated areas. Make sure you bring enough food and layers of clothing!
By the way, let REI tell you how to dress in layers
If you manage to make it that far South, visit the fantastic Marble Caves (“Cuevas de Mármol“), on Lago Carrera General.
2 days in Puerto Varas
This is the most demanding journey in these 3 weeks in Chile itinerary, lasting 10h with 3 or 4 changes. But when you finally get to Puerto Varas, the peacefulness of Lake Llanquihue will soothe your soul. From many aspects, Puerto Varas is a much better place to stay than Puerto Montt, too big and ugly.
This Swiss-looking little town is the epitome of what the Lake District is: rustic, appeasing. With a wind of old-time Europe blowing in its streets and across the waters of the placid lake. In the near distance, a couple of volcanoes stand guard.
Volcan Osorno seems like a stone’s throw away and is indeed perfectly accessible; there are a few buses, but hitchhiking is also fairly easy. So is the climb up, on foot or by chairlift, rewarding with a beautiful view of the lake. There again, the words that come to mind are ‘peaceful’ and ‘appeasing’. You will see for yourself.
If you prefer, go around the lake, stopping at small villages and secluded beaches on the way. In the evening, indulge in a hot chocolate or a craft beer, both local specialities.
Start dreaming: Our stay in Puerto Varas and our hike up Volcano Osorno
Finally, finish your three weeks in Chile with a night bus back to Santiago for your flight home.
More best places to visit in Chile
Looking for more? There are still many attractions that didn’t fit in this overland Chile travel itinerary. Can you imagine that some visitors want to travel Chile in 9 days?
Here’s a list of places you should consider, depending on how many days in Chile you’re ready to spend. Let’s add more destinations to your Chile bucket list!
- Cerro La Campana
- Lauca National Park
- Humberstone & Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
- Easter Island
- Isla Robinson Crusoe
- Pichilemu & Punta de Lobos
- Pucón & Volcano Villarica
- Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
- Punta Arenas & Isla Magdalena
- Puerto Natales
2 or 3 weeks in Chile budget
Going out in Chile can be expensive but bus transportation is affordable and the entrance to most sites is either free or cheap. It’s also fairly easy to couchsurf and hitchhike, bringing down the overall cost of travel in Chile.
You can check departures times and prices for all bus journeys on Recorrido.cl.
Therefore, the cost for 2 weeks of travel in Chile, including cheap accommodation (hostels, hotels or camping), bus transportation between destinations, your ticket to Santiago’s Museo de Arte Precolombino, a guided tour of an Elqui observatory, a tour of El Tatio Geysers & Lagunas Escondidas and renting a bike to Valle de la Luna could be around:
200,000 Chilean pesos ($ 260 USD / 235 €)
For our 3 weeks in Chile itinerary including accommodation and bus transportation, your ticket to Santiago’s Museo de Arte Precolombino, entrance to Conguillío & Chiloé national parks in high season and to Cerro Castillo national reserve without camping, and a penguin watching tour on Chiloé, count with an estimated budget per person of:
300,000 Chilean pesos ($ 385 USD / 350 €)
These amounts don’t include food, drinks, city transportation or any souvenir you should decide to bring back.
Weather and what to pack for 2 or 3 weeks in Chile
What to wear in Chile depends firstly on which part you decide to take on.
Unsurprisingly, the north of Chile remains mild all year, with day temperatures between 21ºC and 24ºC. You’ll need shorts and short sleeves but also a very thick jumper for potential early starts. The temps in Patagonia, on the other end, oscillate more, between -2ºC in Winter and 22ºC in Summer; they can get even colder at high altitudes. You’ll require a good wind blocker anyway, a hat and probably a scarf.
The rest of the country, known as the Central Valley, is of mild Mediterranean-style temperatures. They go between 15ºC (especially on the coast) and 30ºC (especially in Santiago) throughout the year.
Wherever you go, make sure you bring sun-blockers (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen).
Other things not to forget:
- your usual responsible traveller’s kit: foldaway bag, reuse cup, water filter, lunch box, cutlery
- a water bottle for the many hikes
- a camera, how could you forget it?!
- useful phrases and words in Spanish
- entertainment for long bus travel: book or podcast
- a sleeping bag – also for Couchsurfing
- a tent if you go camping
Read how we went wild camping in Argentina without a tent
Back in Santiago for your final night, you keep wondering whether all you’ve seen on your Chile vacation is true. Whether you’ve followed the 2-week itinerary to the north or the 3 weeks in the south of Chile, you’ve experienced unique landscapes that you didn’t know existed. It was demanding –both on your body and on your soul– but you know those memories will never leave you. And already, acting like cocaine on your nervous system, you’re craving for more of Chile, the inconceivable land.
Are you planning a trip to Chile? Are you looking for other types of destinations?
Contact us for a personalised Chile itinerary!
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