25/05/2024

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Best places to visit in Chile and what to do there

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Best places to visit in Chile and what to do there

Chile is a country in South America that stretches more than 4,200km (2600+ miles) from north to south. Hemmed in by the vast Pacific Ocean in the west and the imposing Andes mountains in the east, Chile is a land of diverse landscapes, a rich cultural heritage, and warm-hearted people. From the stunning peaks of the Andes to the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert and the pristine beauty of Patagonia, there are countless things to do in Chile for every type of traveller. I’ve had the privilege of spending more than a month exploring the country and I was really impressed by the incredible diversity of landscapes, the lovely people and the fantastic food and wines. For those of you thinking of or planning a visit, I’ve listed below ten places to visit in Chile, each offering unique and unforgettable experiences.

best places to visit in chile
Lago Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park.

 

1. Santiago

As Chile’s capital and largest city, Santiago serves as a perfect starting point for your tour of Chile. Its airport is a major South American hub with connections to North America, Europe and Australia. From here, there are frequent flights to the major towns in Chile.

things to do in chile
Metropolitan Cathedral in Santiago

The city boasts a mix of modern architecture, historical landmarks, and vibrant cultural scenes. I especially loved exploring the bustling neighborhoods of Bellavista and Lastarria. I also recommend visiting the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral, and riding the Santiago cable-car to the iconic San Cristóbal Hill for panoramic views of the city.

Santiago and the Andes mountains seen from San Cristobal Hill.

 

2. Valparaíso

Situated on the Pacific coast, Valparaíso is a city renowned for its colourful hillside neighborhoods, artistic spirit, and UNESCO World Heritage status. Valpo, as it’s known locally, is my favourite city in Chile and shouldn’t be missed!

where to go in chile
A colourful street in Valparaiso
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The funicular railway in Valparaiso

Explore the city’s winding streets adorned with stunning street art, ride its historic funiculars, and immerse yourself in the vibrant bohemian culture that has made Valparaíso a haven for artists and intellectuals. It’s a city of many hills so be prepared to climb lots of stairs and don’t miss taking the funiculars.

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A colourful mural in Valparaiso, Chile.

3. Atacama Desert

Prepare to be transported to another world in the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Located in the northern part of Chile, it is one of the driest and hottest places on Earth. Parts of the desert are so inhospitable, even bacteria can’t survive there!

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Sunset over the Moon Valley

I spent five days there and discovered many unforgettable things to do in the Atacama Desert. Marvel at the surreal salt flats of the Salar de Atacama, soak in the natural hot springs of Puritama, and witness the breathtaking sunset over the Moon Valley.

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The dunes in Death Valley

As the gateway to the Atacama Desert, San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that serves as a base for exploring the region’s natural wonders. Hike through the otherworldly Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and the dunes of the Death Valley, witness geysers shooting steams of hot water into the air at El Tatio, visit the altiplano lakes and gaze at the star-filled skies at one of the world’s best stargazing sites.

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Flamingoes in Laguna Chaxa.
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Laguna Miscanti, one of the altiplano lakes

 

4. Patagonia

This region in the southern tip of Chile, bordering Argentina, is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the world. From Santiago, there are frequent flights to Punta Arenas, the gateway to Chilean Patagonia. Make sure you sit on the left side of the plane for some of the most breathtaking aerial views of Patagonia!

best things to do in chile
Torres del Paine NP

Patagonia is a huge area that’s divided by countless channels, fjords, ice-fields, glaciers and the southern end of the mighty Andes mountains, making large parts of the region quite inaccessible. Patagonia is fascinating, awe-inspiring and often bewildering. During my tour, I visited many highlights of Patagonia which absolutely blew me away (quite literally). 

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Alpacas grazing.

For nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts, a visit to Torres del Paine National Park is a must. Located near the town of Puerto Natales, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to soaring granite peaks, turquoise lakes, and vast glaciers. Embark on the iconic W trek, go horseback riding, or simply revel in the untouched beauty of this pristine wilderness.

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Torres del Paine NP – jagged peaks

I suggest making Puerto Natales your base. From here, you can join a boat trip along the Seno Ultima Esperanza (or Last Hope Sound) to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, and go on numerous day or multi-day tours to other amazing places, including the world-famous Perito Merino glacier in Argentina.

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Seno Utima Esperanza (Chile) – waterfalls
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Serrano glacier (Chile)

 

5. Chiloé Island

Steeped in mythology and folklore, Chiloé Island offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. The gateway to Chiloé Island is the port city of Puerto Montt on the mainland. I especially loved the island’s verdant landscapes, charming fishing villages and distinctive wooden churches, such as the Church of Colo in Quemchi, one of 16 churches in Chiloé that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Another stunning church to visit is the San Francisco church in Castro.

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San Francisco Church in Castro

Don’t miss sampling traditional dishes like curanto, a mouthwatering seafood stew. Don’t forget to visit the iconic palafitos, colorful stilt houses that line the coast. Look up tours to Chiloé Island.

Palafitos in Chiloé (image courtesy of L.Trols/Wikimedia Commons)

 

6. Puerto Varas

The Chilean Lake District is a beautiful region of crystal-clear, emerald lakes and magnificent snow-capped volcanos. Nestled on the shores of Lake Llanquihue (pronounced as ‘jean [as in French]-kway-way’), Puerto Varas is a picturesque town that captivates visitors with its stunning scenery. The conical-shaped Mount Osorno lies just across the lake, providing for a stunning picture-perfect backdrop.

top places to visit in chile
Puerto Varas, with Volcan Osorno in the background (image courtesy of Hosteria Outsider, Wikimedia Commons).

Admire the Swiss/German-inspired architecture, take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront promenade, and indulge in outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, and fishing. Don’t miss the nearby emerald-coloured Petrohue waterfalls.

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Petrohue waterfall

Puerto Varas is also the starting point of the spectacular Cruce Andino tour, which takes visitors by bus and boat across numerous lakes in the Andes mountains to Bariloche in Argentina. Check availability and prices for this unforgettable tour.

7. Pucon

Another town in the Chilean Lake District I enjoyed is Pucon, a picturesque town renowned for its stunning natural beauty and outdoor adventure opportunities. Visit the iconic Villarrica Volcano, soak in the soothing thermal hot springs, and engage in thrilling activities like whitewater rafting, hiking, and skiing, depending on the season. Look up activities and tours in and around Pucon.

Villarrica Volcano seen from Pucon (image by Draceane/Wikimedia Commons).

8. Winelands

If you love wines (like I do), you’re in for a treat in Chile! The Chilean winelands are scattered around the centre of the country, some of which are a short drive from Santiago. Here are three top wine destinations in Chile to consider:

chilean wine regions to visit
Vineyards framed by he snow-capped peaks of the Andes.

Maipo Valley

Located just outside of Santiago, the Maipo Valley is one of Chile’s most traditional and prestigious wine regions. Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, this valley is home to some of the country’s oldest and most renowned wineries. Visitors can take tours and tastings at iconic vineyards such as Concha y Toro, Santa Rita and Cousiño Macul. The scenic landscape, with the backdrop of the Andes Mountains, adds to the charm of the region.

Colchagua Valley

Situated south of Santiago, the Colchagua Valley is famous for producing high-quality red wines, particularly Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It is considered one of Chile’s premier wine regions, offering picturesque vineyards and excellent wineries. Some notable wineries to visit include Viu Manent, Montes, Lapostolle, and Viña Santa Cruz. In addition to wine tastings, many wineries offer guided tours, wine pairing experiences, and opportunities to explore their beautiful estates.

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Wine-tasting

Casablanca Valley

Located between Santiago and Valparaíso, the Casablanca Valley is known for its cool-climate wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. This valley benefits from the coastal influences and fertile soils, resulting in crisp and aromatic white wines. It is a relatively young wine region but has gained international recognition for its high-quality production. Wineries like Casas del Bosque, Matetic and Kingston Family Vineyards offer excellent wine tours and tastings, allowing visitors to enjoy the region’s stunning vineyard landscapes.

 

Other notable wine regions worth mentioning include the Aconcagua Valley, renowned for its Bordeaux-style reds, and the Limarí Valley, known for its cool-climate wines and proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

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Errazuriz winery in the Aconcagua Valley.

Regardless of which winelands you choose to explore, you can expect beautiful vineyards, informative tours, and the opportunity to taste some of Chile’s finest wines. Remember to check the winery’s visiting hours and make reservations in advance to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.

9. Viña del Mar

Known as the “Garden City,” Viña del Mar is a coastal paradise located north of Valparaíso. It’s a city of beautiful beaches, meticulously maintained parks and gardens, and a vibrant cultural scene. Take a leisurely stroll along the scenic coastline, admire the eclectic 20th century architecture along Avenida Libertad (Liberty Avenue) and Quillota Street, visit the impressive Flower Clock, and explore the renowned Quinta Vergara Park, home to the annual Viña del Mar International Song Festival.

Viña del Mar (image by G.Calquin/Unsplash)

10. Easter Island

Famous for its enigmatic moai statues, Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) is a captivating destination in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the most isolated places in the world – the closest landmass is about 4,000 kilometers away!

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The mysterious statues of Easter Island

For a small island, there’s a wide array of things to do on Easter island. Visit the ancient stone guardians that dot the island’s landscape, learn about the theories and mysteries surrounding their origins, and explore the fascinating archaeological sites. I also recommend visiting Orongo crater for some stunning scenery and some of the earliest stone carvings on the island.

chile travel guide
A moai lying on a grassy slope.
Orongo crater

Easter Island is one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever visited. If you’re going, please take good care of this precious heritage by staying on the paths and not touching the statues. Look for Easter Island tours.

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