A land of outstanding beauty, Chile stretches long and thin sandwiched between the impressive Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to stunning diverse landscapes that range from colossal glaciers and desolate deserts to gigantic snow-capped mountains, deep blue lakes and attractive urban centers.
With plenty of things to see and do, Chile is definitely a great destination for those interested in travelling to South America and getting a taste of everything that this large continent has to offer.
Whether you are interested in tasting delicious food, architecture, historic sites, nature or the splendid urban life, Chile has something for everyone to enjoy.
Santiago is the largest city and the capital of Chile. It will probably be your first destination in the country and worth visiting one indeed!
Santiago is a booming metropolis featuring impressive views of mountainous terrain. It stands out because of its cosmopolitan vibe and cultural scene with interesting museums and a tempting food scene.
Santiago makes it easy for tourists to admire the most beautiful views. With the Andes mountains as a backdrop, there are two hills that are particularly popular: Cerro San Cristobal and Cerro Santa Lucia, that provide stunning panoramic views of the city.
If you’d rather not climb the stairs, you can ride the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.
Other important highlights you can’t miss during your stay in Santiago are:
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: It showcases an excellent collection of paintings and sculptures mostly from Chilean artists.
- Museo de Arte Precolombino: Dedicated to Pre-Columbian art, this stunning museum is the place where to admire and learn about Chile’s ancient history.
- Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda: It’s the seat of the Chilean President. Don’t miss the changing of the guard!
- Parque Metropolitano: It’s one of the most important green areas in the city. Go and take a walk through the charming Botanical Gardens you can see there!
- Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos: This museum offers the best place to learn about the difficult most recent past of the country and the sufferings during Pinochet dictatorship.
- Check Barrio Bellavista, with colorful buildings and quaint cafés and look for Pablo Neruda’s home here.
Drive Along the Carretera Austral
Snaking 770 miles through the Aysen region, the Carretera Austral or Southern Highway not only connects the area’s more isolated communities but also seduces avid travelers with a spectacular road trip as you drive by epic mountains, temperate rainforests, turquoise lakes and rivers, charming towns and creeping glaciers.
Originally developed by dictator Augusto Pinochet, you can easily spend weeks driving along this splendid highway without getting bored of the stunning landscape around you and exploring the amazing photography, hiking, kayaking, backpacking and wildlife watching opportunities it has to offer.
The Carretera Austral starts in Puerto Montt and ends in Villa O’Higgins. It traverses most of Chilean Patagonia and it offers really picturesque stops. There are also a couple of unmissable national parks along the way such as: Quelat with its hanging glacier, Cerro Castillo or Patagonia Park. They are great areas for hiking and for enjoying nature at your pleasure.
Despite it’s an easy road to drive and it’s well signaled and maintained, driving in a foreign country can be tricky. Those renting a car can take their safety to the next level by investing in car renters damage insurance that provides affordable damage and liability coverages.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Valparaiso (or Valpo as the Chileans call it lovingly) is known as the “jewel of the Pacific” due to the natural splendour of 45 mountain peaks that surround it and abruptly fall into the sea. It’s Chile’s third largest city and its historic traditions, arts and architecture make it another important highlight in any trip to Chile.
Located about 112 kilometers NW of Santiago, it’s popular because of its cobbled streets and unique harbour and beaches. Amongst the incredible attractions that you can enjoy here you can’t miss Prat Pier, Barrio del Puerto and its lovely churches and La Sebastiana _ a museum and former home of Pablo Neruda.
Other must-visit attractions are Museo Lord Cochrane that focuses on the maritime heritage of the city and the superb Museo Naval y Maritimo, with its display dealing with the war of the Pacific between Chile and allied Peru and Bolivia.
What makes Valparaiso stand out are by far its steep funiculars, colorful buildings and cliff top homes. If you’re visiting the city during the summer months, enjoy the sun at Renaca beach! It’s Chile’s most captivating coastal city with its multi-coloured picturesque cliff top houses and bohemian art scene.
Take your time to stroll the narrow streets and take in the charming vibe of the city. Use the lift accessed from Esmeralda Street and wander Cerro Concepcion, where you’ll find a nice café and restaurant that offers spectacular views of the bay.
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is situated at the southern point of the Chilean Andes and it is well-known for its world-class trekking routes. There are glaciers, rivers, forests, fjords and lakes to admire and you can even spot various native animals such as guanacos, pumas, foxes and several species of birds.
It’s one of Chile’s most important natural areas and it’s a stunningly beautiful area. Located around 100 kilometers north of the city of Puerto Natales, it’s a great highlight in any trip to Chile.
Probably, the most important area within the park is the Cordillera del Paine, which marks the transition from the Patagonia steppe to the subpolar forests of the north.
Perhaps the most notable of its many stunning features are the three 2850-meter-tall granite peaks of the Paine Massif, which dominate this already breathtaking scenery.
If you love hiking this is definitely the place to go. There are many well-marked trails and many of them offer overnight shelters, especially handy if you are planning longer treks circling the mountains.
There are also professional guides that you can hire and in fact it is mandatory to do so to explore certain areas. One of the most popular trails is the five-day W Trek; it’s a 71-kilometer route that includes the massive Glacier Grey and the mountains of Paine Grande.
Another short but equally beautiful is the one that offers magnificent views of Salto Grande, a gorgeous waterfall; from there, within an hour walk you can reach Mirador Nordernskjöld, with incredible views over the lake and mountains.
The Atacama Desert
Located in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is known for being one of the driest places in the world. It’s a sprawling desert plateau that spans around 6000 miles of land between the Andes mountains and the Pacific ocean.
It’s deep, dark starry night is famous and highly appreciated by professional and amateur astronomers interested in star gazing and space exploration and there’s even the ALMA observatory there.
If you’re not into star gazing or would love to explore the area during the day, these are just a few of the things you can do here:
Summit a volcano: Dotted with volcanoes all over, you can climb one during your visit to the Atacama Desert. There are guided hikes to both active and dormant volcanoes such as Volcan Laskar or Cerro Toco.
- Explore Geysers del Tatio: This area is home to some of the most incredible geyser activity in the continent. There are guided tours offered that make it easier for curious travelers to catch the most active time of day for these bubbling geothermal hotspots.
- Explore nearby salt flats and lakes: There are expansive salt flats and lagoons that you can explore on guided tours where you can discover some of the most incredible earthy landscapes.
- Sandboard down the sand dunes: Are you an adrenaline seeker? Tr sandboarding down the dunes of the desert then! If you haven’t tried anything similar in the past, you can attend beginner lessons and have lots of fun!
Those looking for something more relaxing can try Baños de Puritama hot springs with its various pools interconnected with walkways or stop by Laguna Baltinache for a float (they are too salty and you can’t sink in them even if you try).
While in the Atacama Desert take your time to explore the Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon. It lies close to San Pedro de Atacama near Chile’s border with Bolivia. It’s a rugged, inhospitable looking landscape in the heart of the Atacama Desert that attracts visitors with its resemblance to the surface of the moon.
Despite its remoteness, it’s amazingly beautiful and it has sustained numerous species of flora and fauna for ages.
Another interesting feature of the Atacama Desert and its many caverns. Some have evidence of pictographic activity while in others some of the world’s oldest mummies were found, such as the Chinchorro Mummies that are now displayed in the archaeological museum in San Miguel de Azapa.
Gateway to some of Chile’s most surreal landscapes, San Pedro de Atacama is a small lively village located in the heart of the Atacama desert that is a magnet for tourists. There’s plenty to see here, from sparkling salt lakes where flamingos roam freely to otherworldly rock formations. It’s a great place to stay and have plenty of time to explore the surrounding natural wonders.
Love swimming and beaches? Then Arica is the place to go in Chile. It’s the country’s northernmost beach town and it’s a great destination for windsurfing, scuba diving, sport fishing, swimming and many other water sports. It’s also a great place for hiking, trekking and mountain biking.
This port town benefits from sunshine all year round and it’s also home to one of the most important carnivals in South America.
Chiloe Island is the largest island of the Chiloe archipelago in southern Chile. It’s known for its 150 iconic XVII and XVIII-century wooden churches, most of which are World Heritage Sites. Another unique feature of this island are the palafitos: colorful houses on stilts that dot the water’s edge.
Chiloe National Park is located in the center of the island and there visitors can explore forests, lakes, rivers and beaches and experience the magic of traditional Huilliche communities. The park is dominated by the many Valdivian forests where pudus and Darwin’s foxes live. You can also spot pygmy blue whales, flamingos and sea lions from the coast.
Chiloe island is a great place for kayaking and hiking! It’s a very popular getaway amongst Chileans because of its beautiful architecture and attractive traditions. It can be easily reached by bus or boat from Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas.
The Chilean Lake District
Stretching for more than 330 kilometres from Temuco to Puerto Montt, the Chilean Lake District is definitely worth exploring. Located in the Andean foothills, it boasts rich farmland at the base of its many snow capped volcanoes, ringed by thick forests and deep lakes that are ideal for practising all kinds of watersports.
It’s also an ideal place for adventure lovers as the region offers plenty of opportunities for canoeing, horse riding, trekking, volcano climbing and skiing in winter. Road trips to the region are also extremely popular.
In scenic cities such as Puerto Varas surrounded by two volcanoes and sitting on the edge of the Llanquihue Lake, there’s also evidence of the German immigration that arrived to the area many years ago. The Lake District is the historic homeland of Chile’s Mapuche people and the area gives visitors an invaluable opportunity to learn more about their interesting culture.