This Patagonian country is a rich tapestry of mountain and plain, jungle and ocean. Chile’s unusual long shape has given it a varied climate with one of the world’s driest desert in the north, while its southern tip is home to cold-weather creatures like penguins. Chile is one of the closest nations, along with Argentina and New Zealand, to Antarctica. The South has a strong history of visiting explorers, as everyone who sailed around the world before the Panama Canal was built needed to pass its tip. The country also has a well-known wine region that attracts many oenophiles each year. Here is a look at some of the best places to visit in Chile:
This northern Chilean town is the second oldest in the nation. It boasts a city full of lovely architecture and a warm golden beach. La Serena has a reputation as an intellectual town, and has a number of great sights that fit this description, like an archaeological museum and astronomical observatory. Outdoor enthusiasts will love to bike through the Elqui Valley, swim, snorkel, dive and/or hike through Isla Damas, and visit the national park at Fray Jorge.
The capital city is the political and cultural heart of Chile. From the high mountain views of the Cerro San Cristobal Park to the secluded history of poet Pablo Neruda’s writing retreat, there is much to see in Santiago. Top picks include skiing Valle Nevado or Portillo, wine tasting at Vina Aquitania, or visits to one of several top museums like Museo Chile de Arte Precolumbio or Museo de la Moda. For those who don’t want to spend all of their time in the city, there are amazing hiking opportunities like the steep slopes of Cajon de Maipo.
Chiloé Island is the largest island of the Chiloé Archipelago in the Los Lagos Region and the second-largest island in South America after Tierra del Fuego. In part because of its physical isolation from the rest of Chile, Chiloé has a very special architecture and local culture. The Spanish who arrived in the 16th century, and Jesuit missionaries who followed, constructed hundreds of unique wooden churches in an attempt to bring Christianity to the archipelago. The result was a mixing of Catholicism and indigenous Chilean beliefs.
This beautiful beach and casino town offers a vibrant boardwalk and gorgeous 19th century Georgian architecture like the Aztoreca Palace. Iquique is the Monte Carlo of Chile, and has much to offer for anyone who loves free-spirited fun. During the day, guests here can participate in world-famous surfing waves, paraglide or sand-board on the golden coast. A stroll down the wooden sidewalks of the historic mining town, or the cobbled Baquedano street, gives a look into an older economic boom time. Finally, the spectacular nightlife offers glitzy gambling, excellent cuisine, and shopping in the duty-free district.
The southern coast of Chile presents a large number of fjords and channels that provide the only access to this part of Patagonia. Sailing through this region can be an unforgettable experience. Most of the trips start from Puerto Montt and travel towards Carretera Austral, Laguna San Rafael and Puerto Natales. The journey takes visitors through days of uninhabited fjords, close encounter with glaciers and views of orange sunsets over the Pacific. To the south, the channels become narrower. Along the way, travelers might spot whales, many birds and sea lions.
This hard-working economic port town on the coast of Central Chile was loved by the poet Pablo Neruda for its beautiful chaos. It boasts some of the first urban innovations in Latin America, like the first volunteer fire department. In addition to its working class roots, Valparaiso has a reputation for an underground street art movement. Instead of specific tourist attractions, Valparaiso is best known for its brightly colored houses, a vibrant nightlife and beautiful seaside views.
This long, lush volcanic valley region stretches from Puerto Montt in the South to Temuco in the North. It is home to dense forests, crystal-clear lakes, and snowcapped volcanoes. Before the introduction of Europeans, the lake district was thickly forested, and inhabited by the Mapuche, one of the few South American tribes to avoid being swallowed into the Incan nations. Today, there are still some beautiful untouched lands, like Los Alerces National Park, known as Chile’s Yosemite. Mountains here are very young, only two thousand years old, which makes them higher and more jagged than anything in North America, and well worth the trip all by themselves.
Popular among Chilean tourists and international visitors alike, this is one of the most visited places in Chile. San Pedro de Atacama is a town on the edge of one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. Austere, endless flood and salt plains surrounded by coppery mountains are plentiful, and have to be seen to be believed. The nightlife here is a little different- the big draw is star tours, as it is one of the darkest places in the world, and an opportunity to see the night sky undiluted.
The “towers of blue” national park constitutes a glaciated region on the Southern tip of Chile. Three large pillars in the park give it its name, and it is also home to a number of “horns”, or other mountains, and glaciated lakes. Exploration through this park can be done via mini van tours, multi-day treks, or catamaran trips. There are a few services who will also offer horseback tours to some of the sites. Much of the park is foot-only, and there are a number of excellent guide companies who can help carry gear and cook meals on five to seven day treks.
Located more than 3,500 km (2,000 miles) form central Chile, Easter Island continues to be one of the world’s great mysteries. This treeless island of hundreds of giant, hollow-eyed statues carved by its Polynesian visitors is an eerie yet beautiful example of human artistry and achievement. Besides visiting these statues from a respectful distance to avoid immense fines and hiking the rocky plains, guests here can enjoy two white sand beaches with off-coast diving, an extinct cinder cone, and a number of native-run tours that offer views of things that are unique and well worth it.