10 Days in Chile Itinerary: Atacama Desert, Santiago, Valparaiso

10 Days in Chile Itinerary: Atacama Desert, Santiago, Valparaiso

If there’s one country you should add to your bucket list, it’s definitely Chile. For some reason, it feels like Chile is such an underrated destination, and I can never figure out why. For one, up in the Atacama region, it has some of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen — it really feels like you’re on another planet at some points. Santiago, on the other hand, is a vibrant and artsy city with an interesting and complex history, and lots to see and do. As for Valparaiso, it’s a bohemian mecca with a gorgeous ocean view. Plus, there’s the whole Patagonia region, which I haven’t yet had the chance to experience, but hope to someday. 

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If you’re thinking of visiting Chile but don’t know if anyone will go with you (or maybe you’re excited by the idea of traveling alone, in which case, I love that for you), Chile was the first country I ever explored alone, and it ended up being the perfect place to do so. It not only felt really easy to navigate and meet other people, but it gave me so much confidence as a traveler. (Check out this guide with all my best tips for planning your first solo trip!)

Whether or not you’re traveling solo or with a friend or partner, 10 days is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what Chile has to offer. But trust me, you won’t want to leave after that!

Before we get to this 10 days in Chile itinerary, let’s go through some basics first. (Or just use the table of contents to skip ahead to the itinerary)

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What to Know Before You Go

What’s the currency in Chile?

The Chilean peso. At the time of writing, $1 USD comes out to 938 CLP. As an American traveler, I found that Chile wasn’t quite as affordable as other destinations in South America like Argentina or Brazil, but with that said, you can definitely make this destination work if you’re traveling on a budget. Check out my top 10 tips to traveling on a budget here.

What’s the weather in Chile?

The summer is from December to February, while the winter is June to August. The climate, however, totally depends on where you are in Chile. The Atacama desert, where we’ll start off this 10-day Chile itinerary, is insanely dry with little to no rain, and can get super cold in the early mornings and night, even in the summertime. I traveled in January, the summer, and layers served me well, as it got into the mid-70s during the day. Central Chile, where Santiago is, is much more temperate, with summer temperatures typically reaching the early 80s, and the mid-50s during wintertime. 

Do I need a visa to visit Chile?

U.S. tourists don’t need a visa before entering Chile, but upon entry, you’ll receive a tourist card that’s valid for 90 days. Be warned, this does not look like any sort of official documentation that you should hold on to. One of my biggest travel mistakes ever is that I accidentally threw mine out. Luckily, I realized my mistake while in Santiago, so I was able to replace it easily. You’ll need to surrender the card once you leave Chile, so don’t be like me, and take better care of yours! (But if this does happen to you, you can get it replaced at the International Police Office or at the airport.)

Atacama Desert

10 Days in Chile Itinerary

Days 1-4: Atacama

To kick off your 10 days in Chile, you’ll most likely have to fly into Santiago first, and then take another flight up to Calama, the airport in the Atacama region. While you could definitely rearrange this itinerary and start off in Santiago instead, to me, there’s no better way to begin your trip than with some of the most stunning nature you’ll ever see, before getting to a busier city like Santiago. Day 1 accounts for traveling and arriving at your hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, after which you’ll probably want to take it easy and rest, especially since you’ll have a few days of early mornings and full nature excursions ahead.

Although there are a fair amount of locations listed here (and there are even more that I didn’t get a chance to see that aren’t included), it’s actually fairly easy to visit most of these in three or four days.  I arranged tours through my hostel, (Viator also has a bunch of tours available here) so I didn’t have to worry about any transportation or other logistics, and I’d definitely recommend this route. Many of the tours even included meals. Most of these destinations are fairly spread out from each other and can take a couple hours to get to in some cases. 

El Tatio Geysers, the third largest geyser field in the world and the largest in South America, are an awesome way to start your trip. They’re a couple hours from San Pedro, and the geysers are most active and visible first thing in the morning. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a morning person, but this was more than worth the early wake-up call. Just remember to bring a jacket — it will be really cold in the morning, especially at such high elevation. There are also hot springs here to visit after checking out the geysers. 

El Tatio Geysers

Machuca is a really tiny Andean town with less than 50 residents. Stop here on your way back from the El Tatio Geysers, grab an empanada here and check out the little church and the interesting views. 

The Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache, while not so hidden nowadays, encompass seven saltwater lakes. If you haven’t experienced this before, it means you’ll float easily in this water, but keep in mind that you’ll only be able to swim in two of the lagoons, for conservation-related reasons.

Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache

While I could never choose just one place as my favorite, visiting the Lagunas Altiplánicas (Lagunas Miñiques and Miscanti) is definitely an experience I’ll always treasure. They’re both relatively close to each other (although about an hour to two hours from San Pedro de Atacama), and really made me stop in my tracks. They’re so beautiful, that they seem unreal.

Tickets must now be booked in advance, and can be done here. They cost $10,000 CLP or $10.41 USD.

Lagunas Altiplánicas

Valle de la Luna is another awe-inspiring, must-see spot in Atacama. An added bonus is this is located right next to the San Pedro de Atacama town, making it a great spot to wrap up your day before heading back for dinner. Some even say that the soil in the Atacama Desert is most like the soil on Mars, and in the Valle de la Luna, or the Moon Valley, it really did feel like being on another planet. 

Tickets are cash-only, and are $11,000 CLP or about $11.45 USD.

Valle de la Luna

Salar de Atacama is actually the largest salt deposit in Chile. It’s also home to lots of wildlife and other biodiversity, meaning you’ll probably spot flamingos, vicuñas and guanacos here. (Both are related to llamas and alpacas, in case you were wondering). 

Laguna Chaxa, located in Salar de Atacama, is another gorgeous salt flat that was so fun to photograph. It’s also part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, so you’ll more than likely see some flamingos here as well.

Laguna Chaxa

Tebinquinche Lake is also surrounded by salt flats, making for another really unique view of the desert.

As the name suggests, Piedras Rojas is full of red rocks, making for yet another stunning and interesting landscape.

Book in advance here (it’s required and costs $6,000 CLP or $6.25 USD).

Piedras Rojas

What else to know about visiting the Atacama Desert

Since I was committed to early mornings my entire time here, I ended up skipping this, but stargazing is one of the most popular activities to do here. This region is known for having almost no light pollution, meaning its skies are among the cleanest and clearest in the world. 

Also keep in mind that San Pedro de Atacama is 8,000 feet above sea level, meaning this climate is super dry. (And by super dry, I mean driest on Earth, apart from the poles). Make sure to stay hydrated! 

You’ll also want to keep cash with you. Since this area is really remote, not everywhere will take cards, and the local ATMS in San Pedro are known for not always having cash available. 

Where to stay in Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is the best home base during your time in the Atacama Desert. 

Casa Voyage Hostel is a highly-rated, cute spot centrally located in San Pedro de Atacama. Get more information here.

Atacama Desert

Days 5-7: Santiago

We’re halfway through our 10 days in Chile, and it’s time to head to Santiago. You’ll want to fly from Calama to Santiago. It’s just a two-hour nonstop flight, which you can typically find for under $100.

Before visiting Santiago, I had heard mixed reviews. But I, for one, loved my time there. I found it super easy to navigate — which is saying a lot considering I have a horrible sense of direction and also had not yet discovered the magic of SIM cards, meaning my phone only worked while connected to Wifi. (Don’t be like me and get a SIM card. I recommend checking out Airalo.) 

For your first day in Santiago, I highly recommend taking a free walking tour. This will give you a good lay of the land. You’ll get to see some of the main cultural sights, while learning some important history and cultural background. Plus, you can get recommendations from a local. Just remember to tip your guide at the end! Check out some options here.

Santiago

If you’re looking for a hike and an amazing view of the city, you’ll want to visit Cerro San Cristobal. This is a hill situated in the city center. If you’re not up for the hour-ish hike, you can also take a cable car or minibus. The views of the city are beautiful, and there’s a little cafe, as well as a garden and a church at the top.

Plaza de Armas is the main square in Santiago. This square is full of gorgeous architecture, like the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago, or the Royal Palace, which today houses the National History Museum (Plaza De Armas 951 KM0), and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago (Plaza de Armas 498).

Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) is a contemporary cultural center located in a historic building. (Alameda 227) It’s in the Lastarria neighborhood, which is also worth walking around and exploring. 

The Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a stunning art museum that’s been open since the 1800s. Admission is free. (José Miguel de la Barra 650, 8320356 Santiago)

Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, or Chilean Museum of Precolombian art, is full of artifacts and art from throughout Latin America. Admission is $10,000 Chilean pesos, which is around $10 USD at the time of writing. (Bandera 361)

Barrio Italia and Barrio Bellavista are two colorful and artistic neighborhoods that are fun to explore. Both are full of options for eating, drinking and shopping.

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, or Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, is a must-visit in Santiago. This free museum covers the human rights violations that occurred in Chile during its military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. If you don’t know Spanish, try downloading Spanish on Google Translate beforehand. The camera app will help you translate as you go. Or, you could take a tour for an even better experience. (Av. Matucana 501, 8500000 Santiago)

Santiago

What else to know about visiting Santiago

Santiago is a giant city that has also been dealing with some increased security risks lately, unfortunately. Refer to the State Department for more info about Chile travel. And for all my best safety tips, check out this guide. 

Stick to using authorized taxis or Ubers while here. If you use the subway, you’ll need to get a prepaid “BIP” card at the subway station.

Where to stay in Santiago

Located in a former colonial mansion, La Cosa Rosa is one of the most beautiful hostels I’ve ever stayed in. My private room was really nice and spacious, the staff was friendly and helpful, and it was in a walkable location close to restaurants, bars, and other tourist destinations. Get more information and book on HostelWorld here.

Valparaiso

Days 8, 9: Valparaiso

The next stop on our 10-day journey through Chile is for the art lovers out there. This colorful little town is just 90 minutes from Santiago and more than worth a stop during your 10 days in Chile. Buses run a few times a day and are the easiest way to get to Valparaiso. Get more info here.

I’d suggest spending a couple days here to allow yourself time to relax and explore. 

Once again, take a free walking tour while you’re here. The streets here are super windy and hilly, making them a little more difficult to navigate. So, a walking tour is a great way to not have to worry about finding your own way around. Plus, they’re always a great way to meet other travelers. I suggest going with the Tours 4 Tips group, they meet in Sotomayor Square, Valparaiso’s civic center, everyday at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tours are offered in both English and Spanish. The guides are dressed in distinct red-and-white-striped shirts like “Where’s Waldo.” 

Checking out the extensive street art is the main thing to do here. Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción are two of the best areas to visit for this. Both are filled with art, restaurants, bars, shops, and amazing views of the water and multi-colored buildings.

While here, check out La Sebastiana, iconic Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s former home (Ferrari 692, Valparaíso). Not only is it a beautiful home with an amazing view, but it’s an interesting look into Neruda’s life. Admission is just under $10 USD.

Ride a funicular. Not only are they historic and iconic part of experiencing Valparaiso, but they are also a huge relief when you get sick of walking up and down stairs. There are 22 in Valparaiso!

I didn’t get a chance to visit, but if you have the time, you can also check out Viña del Mar. This is a nearby coastal city that’s only about a 10-minute drive from Valparaiso. This is probably the most popular beach city in Chile, and is known as the “garden city.” It looks beautiful!

Valparaiso

What else to know about visiting Valparaiso

One important thing to note about Valparaiso is that you should be ready to walk! This city is full of hills, meaning lots of climbing steps and steep streets.

I have also heard that safety has gotten worse since the pandemic. Be careful with your electronics and try not to keep them visible. When I visited, (pre-pandemic) someone actually came up to me and told me I should put my camera away. The city has kind of a grungy vibe, and you do definitely want to be careful especially at night, but it was so unique and artsy, that it was more than worth it for me. Just be sure to take precautions!  

Where to stay in Valparaiso

Casa Verde Limon is a cute and colorful hostel with great reviews. Plus, it’s close to a number of restaurants and bars. Find out more here.

Valparaiso

Day 10: Back to Santiago and head home

Sadly, we’ve reached the end of our 10 days in Chile. This country is so amazing and has tons to offer, so if you can, add on some time at the end to explore Patagonia. Or, do what I did and hop over to Buenos Aires for a few days instead. Check out this guide for all the best things to do, see, and eat there.

What to Eat in Chile

Empanadas are delicious in any country, and Chilean empanadas are no exception. They’re also larger than ones I’ve had elsewhere, and typically filled with a wider variety of toppings, rather than just meat and cheese.

Pastel de Choclo (Chilean corn pie) is a beef and corn casserole that’s really comforting and satisfying.

Chorrillana is an iconic dish made up of fries, chorizo, steak, onions, and eggs. 

As a coastal country, it’s no surprise that seafood is popular and abundant, especially in places like Valparaiso. Merluza and reinata are the two most popular kinds of fish that’s often served fried, baked, or grilled. Pastel de jaiba, a crab casserole, is also one of Chile’s most famous dishes.

Chile will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope you love your time there like I did! 

-Tess

P.S. Don’t forget travel insurance before you go. I always use World Nomads, which offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more. Get more information here. 

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14 Comments

  1. May 1, 2024 / 8:35 am

    This looks amazing! I’m getting more and more convinced that I need to visit South America!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 2, 2024 / 11:39 pm

      I’m sure you would love it!!

  2. Marilyn
    May 1, 2024 / 6:36 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit this part of the world and this definitely makes me think I should go sooner rather than later. Thanks for the helpful tip about tourist cards – I’ll be sure not to throw mine out!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 2, 2024 / 11:40 pm

      I hope you get to soon! thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Diane
    May 1, 2024 / 8:37 pm

    I love visiting South America! My family is from Chile, but I haven’t been to the Atacama yet. I would love to spend some time here (and in Patagonia as well). The photos you took in Atacama are UNREAL! Thanks for such a helpful guide!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 2, 2024 / 11:44 pm

      ahh that’s awesome! I love Chile and South America so much. I hope you get to visit soon, and thank you!!!

  4. Sara Meyer
    May 1, 2024 / 10:06 pm

    Chile is on my bucket list! This is a great guide for whenever I finally make it.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 2, 2024 / 11:48 pm

      thanks for reading, Sara! Chile is such an amazing place

  5. May 6, 2024 / 4:03 pm

    thank you for sharing your immersive journey through the Atacama. It’s been on my list for years!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 7, 2024 / 4:59 pm

      Atacama is definitely one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. Hope you make it there soon!

  6. Cris
    May 9, 2024 / 1:54 pm

    The Atacama is such a beautiful place! I would love to visit one day.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 9, 2024 / 4:18 pm

      I hope you get to! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. June 23, 2024 / 5:31 am

    Very useful info Tess! Chile is my mom’s dream place. But from where I live (India), it costs about 7200USD for two way flight to Chile! One day I am going to make it and your guide will be used in and out 🙂

    • Tess
      Author
      June 23, 2024 / 5:18 pm

      oh wow, that is a really crazy price! I hope you have an amazing time once you do <3

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