Highlights of Patagonia in 14 Days

Days 1 and 2: Santiago

Arrive in Santiago early the morning of your first day. After a brief rest, set out to explore the city's museums, shops, and green spaces using the power of your own two feet and the capital's efficient metro.

Days 3–6: The Lake District

Head south 675 km (420 miles) from Santiago on a fast toll highway to Temuco, the gateway to Chile's Lake District, or even better, take one of the frequent hour-long flights. Temuco and environs are one of the best places in the region to learn about the indigenous Mapuche culture.

About an hour south, and just 15 minutes apart on the shores of Lago Villarrica, lie the twin resort towns of flashy, glitzy Pucón and quiet, pleasant Villarrica. Base yourself in the latter if you're in peso-saving mode. Drive south through the region from the graceful old city of Valdivia to Puerto Montt, stopping at the various resort towns. Frutillar, Puerto Octay, and Puerto Varas still bear testament to the Lake District's German-Austrian-Swiss immigrant history. Be sure to make time for one of the region's many hot springs.

Days 7–9: Chiloé

From Puerto Montt, drive or take a bus 65 kilometers (40 miles) southeast toward Pargua and catch the ferry to Chiloé. Base yourself in Castro, the capital, which allows for easy side trips through the island. Take a full day to photograph the rows of multicolor homes on stilts, called palafitos, in Castro, and then visit as many of the UNESCO World Heritage Site churches in surrounding towns as possible.

For those seeking to get away from it all, set out for a day-hike in Parque Nacional Chiloé, with its heavily forested trails and dramatic lookout points. Roughly 29 km (18 miles) southwest of the town of Ancud, you can visit Puñihuil and its colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. Don't forget to dine on the island's famous curanto at night.

Days 10–14: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

After taking a return ferry and bus ride back to Puerto Montt, take a spectacular morning flight over the Andes to the Patagonian city of Punta Arenas. On the next day take a bus north to Puerto Natales, gateway to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. You'll need at least two days to wander through the wonders of the park. On your final day, head back to Punta Arenas, stopping en route at one of the penguin sanctuaries, and catch an afternoon flight to Santiago.

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