Santiago is the capital of Chile, the country’s cultural and political heart. There is plenty to see and do in Santiago, from skiing at Valle Nevado to wine tasting at Concha y Torro, and visits to museums such as the intriguing Museo Chile de Arte Pre-Columbino.
Los Lagos is Chile’s Lake District, a long, lush volcanic valley that’s home to dense forests, crystal clear lakes and snowcapped volcanoes. The Lake District is also famous for sights such as Chiloe Island, with its distinct architecture and unique culture.
Sailing through Chile’s Patagonia region offers an unforgettable experience. This journey will take you for days through uninhabited fjords, close encounters with glaciers including the spectacular San Rafael, and panoramas of orange suns setting over the Pacific.
Adored for its beautiful chaos, Valparaiso is a famous port town on the Chilean coast. Along with its working class roots, Valparaiso boasts an underground movement of street artists. Rather than particular attractions and sights, Valparaiso is famous for its brightly-colored homes, vibrant nightlife and attractive seaside views.
Torres del Paine National Park is characterized by a region of glaciers at Chile’s southern tip. The park is home to 3 large pillars from which it derives its name, as well as several other mountain horns and glaciated lakes. While most of the park is foot-only, it can be accessed via catamaran trips, multi-day treks and mini-van tours.
Commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui is one of the greatest mysteries of the world. This island of hundreds of gigantic, hollow-eyed statues carved by Polynesians offers an aesthetic example of human achievement and artistry. Visitors can marvel at the statues, hike the rocky island plains, enjoy off-coast diving on 2 white sandy beaches and an extinct cinder cone among other unique tours.
Los Pinguinos Natural Monument is home to the largest penguin colonies of southern Chile. Situated on Magdalena Island to the northeast of Punta Arenas, Los Pinguinos is topped by a picturesque red lighthouse. Punta Arenas is also worth a visit for a tour of its intriguing Municipal Cemetery.
From the world’s driest desert and spectacular scenery of fjords and glaciers to the numerous volcanoes strung along the Pacific “ring of fire”, Chile never ceases to amaze and delight all those lucky enough to pay her a visit. With all these amazing sights and attractions, it’s no wonder then that so many travelers who visit Chile often find it very difficult to leave.
Situated on the west coast of South America, the coastal city of Valparaiso attracts its fair share of visitors to its wonderful historic districts, cobblestone streets and amazing cultural scene, as well as the vibrant schedule of festivals it hosts annually.
Most of the residential areas of Valparaiso are located on the steep slopes of hills that surround the historic city. About 8 funicular railways are still in operation in the city to carry locals up and down the steep hills. But visitors can also take a funicular which is a great way to not only look into the city’s history, but also visit some of its best viewpoints, with amazing views overlooking the bay.
An historic port, Valparaiso has houses and buildings crowding its steep hills, while elevators known as “ascensores” providing transportation up and down the numerous hills that overlook the Bay of Valparaiso.
Known for being particularly hilly, Valparaiso is popular among those who enjoy quirky methods of transportation. The city is famous for its array of funicular railways such as the Ascensor El Peral and the Ascensor Concepcion, which run up steep streets to take locals to the hills behind the main harbor.
Stretching around a horseshoe-shaped bay, Valparaiso is particularly attractive at night. This is when its bustling night life really begins to kick in. This is a city that’s also known for its thriving artistic scene, with plenty of events held regularly throughout the year.
Dubbed the “Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaiso has interesting colonial architecture which is best seen within the historic quarter of this seaport city. Take a stroll along the beautiful colorful avenues Paseo 21 de Mayo and Paseo Gervasoni. Visit Baburizza Palace and take an elevator for panoramic views of the colorful and stunning Cerro Concepcion.
Go on a cruise along the bay on a leisure craft tour that can reveal some pretty interesting sights. The trip will enable you to get up close and personal with some of the resident sea lions, while admiring some of the big ships moored at port. The views from the water back over the city are also very pleasant as you view the steep slopes rising away from the waterfront. Be sure to also take this trip at night when the city is illuminated by lights, creating beautiful reflections on the water surface.
Every Saturday and Wednesday, visitors to Valparaiso can attend the wonderful farmers market that offers a broad spectrum of local delicacies and ingredients displayed in a colorfully attractive location. In addition, you can also sample some of the local street food that is freshly prepared by the market vendors.
There’s no better way of getting a feel for a destination than by exploring on foot. And like many other cities, Valparaiso has a free walking tour in which guides offer their services in exchange for tips. Take this tour which will introduce you to some of the city’s most interesting parts, including a peek at some of the oldest funicular railways, open spaces and monuments. This is a great way to learn more about Valparaiso by taking in its highlights.
2. Rapa Nui
Commonly known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui is a long way from anywhere. Dubbed the “navel of the world”, Rapa Nui is the world’s most isolated inhabited island. Situated about 3,200km from Chile and Tahiti, the island was only accessible by ship until an airport was built in the 1960s.
Early European explorers to Rapa Nui were amazed by its unique statues carved from volcanic rock from Rano Raraku. Rising as high as 18 feet and weighing many tons, the statues known locally as “moai” are each a representation of the same figure, thought to be an ancestral figure, a mythical creature or a god.
Visitors to Rapa Nui can take a beautiful tour of its ruins for an idea of what the earliest explorers saw there. The moais stand in a row along the coast, with several looking out to sea as sentinels or guardians of the inhabitants of Rapa Nui. Most face inland, as if overseeing activities on the island. On the slopes of the island volcano are many more statues of different sizes and stages of contemplation.
Early explorers described the island as having cultivated lands and woodlands, in addition to the many standing moais. The population was estimated at over 10,000. But subsequent European expeditions of the late 18th century saw the population dwindle, many moais were toppled and very little land under cultivation.
The island would see more decline in the 19th century as whalers made it their stop, and slavers later captured a thousand of its people to work the Guano Islands. Of the hundred who survived enslavement, fifteen returned to the island with smallpox. An 1881 census count listed fewer than 200 people.
The only town in Rapa Nui, Hanga Roa is where the island population lives and is also worth a visit. Also visit Ahu Akivi, Ahu Tahai and Rano Raraku. Ahu Tongariki, Anakena Beach and Hanga Piko are some of the other picturesque sites not to be missed while on Rapa Nui.
A pleasant and hospitable island, Rapa Nui does leave one with a sense of the mysterious and the pull of its ancient moais. For such a little island, there are so many mysteries and so much to be explored and interpreted on Rapa Nui. Curiosity seekers can visit Rapa Nui, examine the moais, learn about the island’s past and ponder its lessons for the future.
It really wouldn’t be worthwhile to travel all that way to Rapa Nui and not spend 4-5 days there. Plan to see the entire island by foot or drive by with stops at some of the more famous moai, including a stop at the quarry site to ponder the incomplete and half-buried statues there.
Replicas of moais, rongorongo tablets and other local artifacts can be purchased at the island markets. If visiting in February, you can attend the Rapa Nui Tapati Fiesta, a local festival aimed at cementing Rapa Nui solidarity against Chilean ownership of the island.
A movement for autonomy and self-determination is underway in Rapa Nui with some groups demanding that the Rapa Nui National Park be returned to its original inhabitants who today own no property outside of Hanga Roa. Other Rapa Nui organizations teach young islanders skills, history and appreciation of their culture, in addition to canoe racing.
Situated in central Chile and backed by the Andes to the east, a fertile valley and coastal ranges, Santiago is Chile’s capital city. Founded in 1541, Santiago was almost completely destroyed by the Mapuche Indians 6 months later. The city was rebuilt over the years and is today one of South America’s largest cities.
The cultural and political center of Chile, Santiago is a cosmopolitan city with an abundance of bars, restaurants, little boutiques and craft fairs. Cultural attractions include art galleries, museums, theaters, ballet, opera, a thriving nightlife, as well as parks, tree-lined streets and distinct neighborhoods.
Like any other large city, Santiago comprises of barrios or neighborhoods, which number 32, each boasting its own distinct history and identity. Bellavista is one of the prettiest and most distinct of Santiago’s barrios. With its pastel-colored houses and balconies, Bellavista is a great place to take a stroll along the city streets and enjoy one of its numerous fine restaurants. Barrio Italia is another distinct neighborhood that’s worth a visit while in Santiago.
Be sure to sample the nightlife in Santiago, in particular the salsa clubs. Other must-see places while in Santiago include Pomaire and the Los Dominicos Handicraft Village, both of which offer ideal venues to hunt for souvenirs and gift items among the abundance of handmade items. Museo Chile de Arte Pre-Columbio is a great spot for art, culture and history lovers to get their fix of pre-Columbian art.
Also worth a peek is Cousino Palace which was built between 1870 and 1878 and which featured among the high society of Santiago during that period. La Vega Central is the main market in Santiago, a bustling and crowded center at which you can get pretty much anything that grows in Chile.
Santiago offers a convenient base for touring the Central Chilean region before heading north or south for the extreme variations in climate, geography and natural attractions.
Your visit to Chile is not complete without a tour of its wineries and vineyards in which some of the best wine-producing grapes in South America are produced. There are plenty of vineyards around Santiago that also provide tasty snacks and food to accompany the wonderful wines they invite you to taste.
Take a daytrip outside Santiago and visit the Concha y Toro Winery, which is home to some of Chile’s finest wines. Varieties such as Merlot, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon are among the most common that are produced within this region.
Wild, vast, remote and infinitely beautiful, Patagonia offers plenty of surprises including the vastness of its ice field that gives way to majestic glaciers, the splendor of mountains such as Torres Del Paine, the dazzling scale and color of Lago General Carrera, and the large maze of canals and fjords that are home to whales and dolphins.
The glaciers of Patagonia offer some of the most spectacular sights in South America and San Rafael Glacier does not disappoint. San Rafael features sapphire-colored ice and a terminus with some of the most beautiful views of Patagonia. Probably one of the most affected by global warming, San Rafael is receding, therefore, if you can, go see the glacier before it literally melts away.
Shared by Chile and Argentina, Lago General Carrera with its spectacular Marble Caves, is the deepest lake in South America. The lake’s beautiful waters offer a glittering combination of azure, emerald, turquoise and aquamarine. Along the lake’s banks, directly below the Andes are astounding sheer marble cliffs shaped into a stunning cathedral of marble.
Everyone loves penguins, and what better place to see them than within their natural habitat? Take a journey to the beautiful Otway Sound, at which you will encounter wild colonies of penguins. The amazing creatures – numbering about 5,000 – nest here each year, between the months of November and March.
The Calbuco Volcano is one of 2 snow-topped volcanic cones that rise above the shores of Llanquihue Lake. One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, Calbuco offers a sight as magnificent as the Osorno volcano. Some of the best views of this peak can be enjoyed on a trek through the Llanquihue National Reserve in which the volcano is located.
It is easy to lose yourself in the Chilean Patagonia, a protected wilderness within nature that serves as a backdrop to diverse activities including trekking, rafting, cycling, kayaking and mountain climbing. Within its rugged and beautiful landscape, Patagonia also hosts villages and cities rich in history.
5. El Norte Grande de Chile
The long territory of Chile encompasses numerous iconic and world-famous regions. El Norte Grande is the northern region of the country which boasts the natural charms of the parched expanse of the Atacama Desert. But Chile doesn’t stop here, as there is more to the north before you hit the country’s border with Peru. And this space is not just empty, but dotted with attractions not to be missed.
Popular tours near the Atacama Desert in northern Chile include trips to the Parque Nacional Lauca. The Lauca national park is home to one of the world’s highest lakes, the pristine Chungara Lake, as well as a broad spectrum of local flora and fauna. The Parque is also home to the native Aymara Indians. Travelers may visit the villages close by, as they make their way to one of the most beautiful works of Mother Nature.
The altiplano is a high plain area between the peaks of the Andes in Chile. This region is home to the Altiplanic Lagoons, which are lakes set high above sea level. The 2 lakes, Minique and Miscanti boast a deep blue color set against the backdrop of snow-topped volcanoes, surrounded by a large plain of yellow tussock grasses whipping in the desert wind. The grass is one of the favorite foods of the vicuna llama, herds of which may be seen in the area.
Valle Del Arcoiris is a valley that’s home to a great variety of attractions to feast your eyes on. Over the course of thousands of years, mineral deposits have left vibrant reds, greens, browns, purples and yellows on the rock surface. Moreover, the wind and occasional rain have helped carve interesting shapes, small canyons and rocky spires into this valley.
High, windswept deserts painted in bright rainbows of mineral in blinding white, orange and magenta flow across the Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces. This Parque boasts a stunningly beautiful terrain with glittering salt flats, sudden, snowy peaks, brilliantly blue lagoons filled with flamingos and wetlands guarded by herds of llamas.
The park is home to Ojo de Salado, the largest volcano in the world. Close by is another impressive volcano, Copiapo, which rises above the high Azufre Mountains. Both volcanoes offer a climb that is fairly not technical and can be easily summited.
6. Los Lagos
Los Lagos is Chile’s Lake District which stands on its own spectacular merits. Los Lagos is famous for its breathtaking scenery of snow-capped volcanoes, deep blue mountain lakes, and the pristine beauty of its larch forests, year-round sports, traditional folklore, handicrafts and legends.
The scenery of Chile’s Lake District is beautiful with the farms, towns and traditions here exhibiting a cosmopolitan yet entirely Chilean feel. Aptly named, the Lake District of Chile features 12 major lakes, with dozens more dotting the surrounding landscape. Between these lakes are rivers, forests, waterfalls, thermal hot springs, and the Andes Mountains.
The Chiloe Archipelago comprises hundreds of islands, the largest being Isla Grande. For many years, Chiloe was all but isolated from the rest of Chile, which enabled it to retain its rich ethnic and folkloric mythology and traditions. Also, the ever-present fog adds to the area’s mystique. Both the northern and southern regions in this area are very rich in flora and fauna, especially birds and marine life.
From the steep green fjords and hot spring rivers, to the waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet through a misty jungle, Parque Pumalin is truly the epitome of paradise. The park’s unique topography and profound isolation from modern society has enabled it to serve as refuge and home to the broadest diversity of wildlife habitat along the entire stretch of the southern Pacific Coast.
Puerto Varas offers a convenient and comfortable base to go skiing within the Lake District. Puerto Varas is itself situated on Lago Llanquihue, around which you can take a circle tour. The places to stop by around this lake include the black sandy beaches. This is also the gateway to a national park that offers treks, walks, cycling and rafting activities.
Also tour the open-air museum with its restored colonial homes and furnishings and the operating blacksmiths shop. Have a look at their schedule for summer classical music concerts.
Along the way, visitors will spy 2 famous volcanoes. Calbuco, with its jagged crater lies on the lake’s southern edge, while Osorno is to the eastern side. If you can, do attempt a climb up Calbuco as this will be worth your while. Also worth a peek is the rich dairy farmland with its historic settlements and architecture.
Visitors can also tour the native rainforests, as well as other scenic areas that are not readily visible from the lake or the road. Other parks feature dense larch forests and other vegetation including climbing vines, wild grasses, ferns and more. Visitors may spot a puma, skunk, gray fox, wild cats or the endangered dwarf deer.
You can also backpack or trek the many trails around the lake, swim, and picnic and sunbathe on the beaches, or take a dip in the hot springs. Also climb the magma canyon and go hill walking.
There is also a big handicraft market that represents the traditions and crafts of the area. The Chilean Lake District is home to the Mapuche Indians who are famous for colorful handicrafts which are available for purchase at their craft fairs, shops and boutiques.
With so much water, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Los Lagos seafood is really good. Pay a visit to the Angelmo fish market in Puerto Montt City where you can feast your eyes on a wide array.
Be sure to sample local seafood specialties including Parillada de Mariscos, which is grilled mixed seafood. Cancato is a grilled fish stuffed with various vegetables, sausage and cheese.
Curanto features a variety of sausages and meats, fishes, crustaceans and mollusks, corncobs and potatoes cooked inside an earthen pit overlaid with leaves. The dish is prepared inside a large earthenware pot and once cooked; it is eaten in layers, typically during major fiestas and holidays. And be sure to down all your sumptuous meals with a glass of Chilean wine of course.
7. The Andes
The Andes are the longest mountain chain in the world and include many of the western hemisphere’s highest peaks. The Andes are home to thousands of animal species including fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians, as well as several rare and endangered species.
The Andes are also home to the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world, along with the Andean Plateau, the world’s second-highest plateau. Situated within the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Andes also boast the highest active volcano in the world, Ojos Del Salado, which is nestled at the border between Chile and Argentina.
Although long, the Andes are also narrow and experience a climate that is highly variable. Temperatures in the Andes range from freezing to temperate, with snow-topped peaks rising up from its fertile valleys. The Andes’ western side is dryer and less populated than the eastern side which is rugged and cold at high altitudes. The eastern side also plunges down into tropical foothills and cloud forests.
Another key feature of the Andes is the altiplano or high plains region. This windswept region is home to vast expanses of grassland, as well as lakes and active volcanoes. A paradise for lovers of hiking, the Andes offer many hiking trails on which adventurous travelers can spend weeks winding along isolated mountain trails.
The Andes comprise a chain of mountains extending thousands of miles along the western coast of South America, and bisecting 7 countries: Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Peru.
In Chile, the Andes are situated within the Los Lagos region and comprise 6 volcanoes, the highest of which is Villarica. Climb the volcano inside the Villarica National Park for spectacular views of the mountain, as well as to witness volcanic activity. You can also hike around its base to see lava flows and debris, as well as check out the caves.
Nonetheless, the most famous volcano in the Andes is Osorno, which is known for its perfect cone. Visitors can spend some time touring the area surrounding Osorno, which is the gateway to Lake Rupanco and the Puyehue National Park.
8. Punta Arenas
The southernmost city of Chile, Punta Arenas traces its origins to a former thriving port that was predominantly used to export wool. Today, the seaside city remains a beautiful reminder of the wealth of its past, which is evident from the grand homes surrounding its plaza and the museums that detail the history of the indigenous peoples of this region. Punta Arenas also has an intriguing Municipal Cemetery that’s well worth a visit.
About 35km to the northeast of Punta Arenas is the Los Pinguinos Natural Monument. Situated on the little Magdalena Island, Los Pinguinos is home to the largest colony of penguins in Chile, which comprises over 120,000 Magellanic penguins. Spanning an area of just one square kilometer, Magdalena Island is found in the middle of the Strait of Magellan and is topped by a picturesque red lighthouse.
Every year during the months of September or October, the birds migrate back here to find their mate, and by the end of March, they return to sea again. The penguins form big communities with more than two hundred thousand individuals and then dig up caves in which to lay their eggs.
The mission of this natural monument is to protect the birds found within its ecosystem, which include cormorants in addition to the penguins. The isolation of the island gives a huge boost to preservation efforts that focus on this nesting place of the penguins in southern Chile.
9. Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego offers history, legend, emotion, adventure travel, a magnificent setting and Chile at its finest.
Situated at the southern extreme of South America, Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago rich in beauty and history. Comprising one large and several smaller and tiny islands separated by channels and inlets, Tierra del Fuego is the “Land of Fire”, which derives its name from the beach fires that its aboriginal people would build for cooking and keeping warm during the 16th century.
Tierra del Fuego comprises a 28,500 square mile archipelago that is shared by Chile and Argentina. Originally inhabited by the aborigines who depended on hunting and gathering for sustenance, the Tierra is a cold, windswept place – but which boasts some supreme scenery. Visitors will particularly be dazzled by the fjords on the Andean coastline that straddle the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel.
The archipelago is separated from the mainland of South America by the Strait of Magellan. A land of cool summers and cold winters, Tierra del Fuego is not too far from Antarctica whose cold air masses roll of its 10,000 foot ice plateau, easily crossing the sea to Tierra del Fuego.
The western and southern sides of the main island form part of the Andean Mountain System with peaks rising more than 7,000 feet, in addition to mountain glaciers.
The Tierra del Fuego National Park offers ample opportunities for sports and recreation including hiking, trekking and mountain biking. Visitors can also stop by the Fernando Cordero Rusque Museum for its amazing display of Fuegian mummies.
Cape Horn is one of the main highlights for visitors in this part of the world. The cape comprises a steep, rocky headland on Hornos Island, situated to the south of the Beagle Channel. Visitors can also enjoy a tour of the scenic southernmost part of Lapataia Bay.
Peppered with picturesque bays and inlets, the Beagle Channel separates Chile’s Puerto Williams from Ushuaia in Argentina. Measuring 3 miles wide and 150 miles long, the Channel boasts rare beauty.
The best way to experience the Beagle is by sailing, which can be the experience of a lifetime, especially during autumn when the world’s southernmost cities and their environs offer breathtaking views wrapped in forests that have not yet lost their leaves.
Take a sailboat, motorboat or catamaran for a half or full day tour. During this time, you will see the mountains that surround the channel to the west and to the east, both of which make for spectacular views of the sea, glaciers and sheer rock.
You can also head southwest to the center of the Beagle Channel to enjoy views of the sea, from which you can observe parts of the Monte Cervantes shipwreck that sunk in 1930.
Various circuits enable tourists to watch the sea lion and bird colonies on the small islands, as well as the crab submarine world by means of an underwater camera. You can go on a tour of Los Lobos Island which is inhabited by sea lions. Here you will hear the barking calls of the sea lions and enjoy sightings of seabirds and Antarctic fur seals.
Los Pajaros is another island worth visiting, which boasts over 20 different seabird species, including cormorants and albatross. Also visit the Penguin Rookery situated on Martillo island. On your way back to Puerto Williams, be sure to pass through the route that offers grand views of the region’s mountains.
10. Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine
Situated in southern Patagonia, Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine is a Chilean park characterized by 180,000 hectares of mountains, lakes and stunning scenery. A wonderland of craggy, granite peaks, snow-topped mountains, glacier-fed lakes, rivers and waterfalls, thick forests and meadows, no matter where you look in Torres Del Paine, you will be graced by fantastic scenery.
Every year, visitors come in droves to the Parque for some trekking, hiking, camping, mountain climbing and drive-through on the many trails that cross a variety of terrain. Other visitors choose to simply venture out on daily walks within the park. But whatever trail you take, you are guaranteed excellent views.
One of the most beautiful and remote places on earth, the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine also has an abundance of wildlife, including condors, huemels and guanacos.
Situated on the Paine Massif, on the southern edge of the Patagonia Ice Cap, the Parque inhabits a mountainous region that dates back at least 12 million years. Some of the fantastic Patagonian park’s peaks are covered in permanent ice, with the most easily recognizable being Torres del Paine and Cuernos del Paine.
Following the ice age, ice fields covering the massif’s base started melting and wind and water carved the rock into massive towers of varying shapes. Crushed rock and sediment today colors the park’s lakes. Intense colors vary from a milky, nearly grey color, to greens, yellows and an intense blue caused by the blue algae.
As such, some of the park’s lakes have been named for their color. In fact, the name “Paine” is derived from the Tehuelche Indian word which means “blue.”
Numerous little waterfalls, large rivers and lagoons also dot the park. Almost completely encircling the Paine Massif is the Rio Paine which begins at the Parque’s northern edge before crossing several lakes including the must-visit Nordenskjold Lake.
Vegetation in the park varies. There is pre-Andean heath around mirador Nordenskjold and Salto Grande, the latter of which boasts a stunning waterfall that is also worth a visit. Magellanic forests grace several areas including the Grey Glacier. There are also mosses within the Magellan tundra and pampas of swampy grasses whose prevalence is dependent on the elevation.
If you’re going to make the effort of getting to the park, it’s only logical that you should spend at least a couple of days there. Nature lovers may opt to camp, while travelers who prefer their creature comforts close by can choose to stay in Puerto Natales, which is the closest town to the park.
Situated on the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is situated 400kms south of the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. To access the park, most people fly to Punta Arenas and then take a bus to Puerto Natales. However, if you have the time, do take the ferry through the fjords to Punta Arenas, which will add another dimension to your memorable trip.