Destinations

What are the Best Places to Visit in Chile?

Discover the best spots to visit during your time in Chile...

An epic string bean of a country hemmed into its position on the western flank of South America by the colossal line of the Andes, Chile is so lengthy that it offers an exceptional variety of landscapes within its 2,670-mile-long mainland. Broadly speaking, this expanse is roughly divided into two zones: a high-and-dry northern half dominated by the Atacama Desert, which pitches steeply down to a smattering of coastal cities; and a cooler, greener southern half covered by pastures, pocked with lakes and volcanoes and indented with a labyrinth of glacier-excavated fjords as convoluted as a cortex.

But that’s not all. In splendid South Pacific isolation some 2,300 miles west of the Chilean mainland is Easter Island – its monumental statues ever on the lookout. Despite its unique qualities, Easter Island does have one thing in common with many of Chile’s other main attractions – utter remoteness. 

Thankfully, though, the country’s transport system is among the most comfortable in South America, so covering the distances is simple enough.

Central Sights

When judged against some of South America’s other big cities, Santiago de Chile has a less exuberant character. Not without the occasional building of note, and certainly not lacking in political history, Chile’s capital is best appreciated from atop Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill that rises 300 metres above the rest of the city and provides views all the way across to the Andes. Appreciating the scenery is something you’ll be doing a lot of in Chile, so you may as well start as you mean to go on.

Altogether more vibrant is hill-strewn Valparaiso, a port city some 85 miles west of Santiago. The city’s many modest dwellings cover the slopes in shanty-style, providing a ramshackle counterpart to the colourful shipping containers stacked neatly on the dockside. Valparaiso’s charming, semi-timbered historic centre is best explored via the 15 ascensores – basically sheds on a funicular railway that are mechanically dragged up the hillside. Another lofty perch is offered by La Sebastiana, one of the homes of Chilean writer Pablo Neruda. With its nest-like feel and eclectic range of objects, La Sebastiana enables you to see Valparaiso through the gaze of the late poet.

For a complete change of scene, take the six-hour flight from Santiago to Easter Island (known as Rapa Nui by the locals). Here, puzzle over the inscrutable expressions of the 887 mysterious moai taking a long-nosed look over the Pacific from various sites on the island. 

The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of these 1,500-year-old monolithic statues is sure to leave you quizzical, but the diving and surfing opportunities encircling Easter Island should bring you back to the here and now.

Northern Escapes

From looking seaward it’s time to tilt one’s head skyward. Northern Chile’s clear skies, along with the high-altitude vantage points provided by the Atacama Desert, have made the country a popular star-gazing spot. From here, the night skies are absolutely full of stars that the effect is both eye-widening and jaw-dropping. Head to Cerro Tololo for a spot of amateur astronomy in scientific surroundings. The observatory is easily reached from the colonial-era coastal city of La Serena.

The driest desert on earth, Atacama dominates the northern half of Chile. By far the best hub for experiencing the sandy, somewhat Martian sights of this area is San Pedro de Atacama – and oasis village of adobe buildings lining narrow, dusty streets. Radiating a real traveller vibe, San Pedro is the obvious place to book a trip to watch the sunset from the towering crags and immense dunes of the Valley of the Moon, set out early to see the geysers at El Taito blast steaming-hot water into clear air before taking a dip in thermal pools, and embark on the journey across the mind-bending blankness of Bolivia’s salt flats. 

Before you leave, though, book at least a night at the plush Tierra Atacama so you can stare at the starry sky in style.

The spectacular south

Five hundred miles south of Santiago on the Panamericana Sur is the eye-catching combination of Lake Villarrica and, presiding over it, the majestic cone of the volcano that shares its name. The most popular base from which to explore Chile’s ‘Lake District’ is Pucón, where all manner of tourism companies offer trips to the snow-collared summit of Villarrica as well as adventures along the white water of the rivers. But it’s not just for adrenaline junkies: there are fishing and hiking trips into the wilderness, too, as well as several thermal spas to relax in.

South again is the island of Chiloé, the second-largest island in South America. With its old wives tales, wooden churches and brightly painted fisherfolk dwellings perched above the water on stilts, verdant Chiloé is a complete change of pace and place to the rest of Chile. A genuine get-away, the island features remote villages such as Cucao and the sand-fringed Chiloé National Park – a backpacker favourite that yields its best experiences by kayak and on horseback.

Beyond Puerto Montt the comparatively direct route provided by Route 5 gives way to the Carreterra Austral, a crooked road that wiggles past numerous national parks as it navigates a landmass fractured into mountains, fjords and islets. Perhaps the pick of the parks here is San Rafael – home to a glacier of the same name that can only be approached by boat or plane. It’s worth the effort of getting there on the water: when you hear what sounds like a gunshot cracking across the lagoon, blue-hued ice the size of the house could be about to tumble into the water…

Last stop Patagonia. Wet and windswept, Patagonia consists of bleak, guanaco-roamed grassland capped by the captivating Torres del Paine massif. Rising from the lakes, glaciers and twisted strata of bedrock that surround it, the granite towers of Paine crown the scenery like immense incisors. 

An unforgettable journey through forests, past glaciers and along lakes rafted with icebergs, trekking in the puma-haunted Torres del Paine National Park is pure, unadulterated pleasure.

And also…

The list above details the ‘best of’ Chile, but if you have a little more time – or are confined to north, central or south Chile, then consider adding the following experiences to your itinerary. 

North:

Lauca National Park – massive, snow-capped volcanoes tower over the altiplano; Nevado de Tres Cruces National Park – bizarrely coloured rocks high in the Andes; Bahia Inglesa – soft white sand and turquoise shallows at Chile’s best beach resort. 

Central:

Wine tours aplenty around Santiago, including the cooler climate of the Casablanca Valley and its crisp whites. 

South:

Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, easily reachable from the stunningly set city of Puerto Natales, is home to thousands of Magellanic penguins.

BOOK YOUR CHILE SAFARI

Contact our destination specialist to start planning your journey.

Contact Us