Clinging to the southern half of the South American continent, you’ll find a narrow nation with a wide variety of attractions. Because it covers so many miles and contains tremendous differences in terrain, the places to visit in Chile have something for everyone. Nature lovers find the diversity irresistible, often experiencing several climates within the same vacation – mountain glaciers, high deserts, and stunning beaches can all be scheduled in the same trip. Whether you are in the mood to dip into the ecotourism industry or simply stretch out on oceanfront sands, you will find Chile is an ideal destination.
Here are some of the best places to experience all the country has to offer:
The Chilean capital is one of the major commercial centers on the continent. Much like the Big Apple, it has developed into a burgeoning metropolis with a skyscraping business district – a feature that has led to the city being nicknamed “Manhattan.” As you would expect, the city is a cultural melting pot, with European influences weighing heaviest – you will find districts where German speakers are just as plentiful as natives. Begin your trip with an eyeful at Cerro Santa Lucia, a hilltop city park with excellent views of the city. Plan out your route the museums and cafés by day, then dive into one of the many thriving sic bars.
Los Vilos Beach
This tiny resort town first rose to fame as the primary port for the wares of local farming and mining organizations. Eventually, the loss for those industries became a major gain for travelers in search of some seaside seclusion. The beautiful shores are a favorite for natives, meaning you might find the sands crowded from time to time, but there are several nooks and crannies you can find for privacy. Spend the day in the sun, enjoying the waves in the bay or working on your tan before stepping into one of the hopping dance clubs – the area is a popular hangout for residents of the nearby towns.
Central Chile has some of the most fertile and scenic lands in all of the country, gently rolling foothills spread out like a green blanket at the base of the Andes Mountains. About 90 minutes’ drive to the east of Santiago, this swath of farmland stretches out to the Pacific Ocean as the country’s equivalent of Napa Valley in California. Vineyards of all sizes dot the hillsides, offering travelers a delicious place to stopover when a break from the big city is necessary.
If you are the type that prefers a lake to the ocean, then you will run for the highlands around Lake Llanquihue. Situated between the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes, the vistas are some of the best in Chile. Outdoorsy folks love to traipse around the hiking paths in the mountains surrounding the town, either to get a different angle while snapping landscape photos or to find the next great fishing spot. And, if you stop in between December and March, you will be greeted by thick bushes of fragrant roses, the town’s specialty.
An active lava field seeps along beneath the surface of this huge geyser field adjacent to Putana Volcano, creating more than 80 spouts of boiling water. At an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet, it is one of the highest in the world – a stunning and eerie contrast to the relatively chilly mountain air. Just a few miles from the town of San Pedro de Atacama, it is often paired with a journey through the surrounding desert, meaning travelers can be in two very remote – and very dangerous – locations in the same day with the help of an experienced guide.
Puritama Hot Springs
Those who choose to wander through the extremes of the Atacama Desert often awaken the next morning to find sore muscles and achy joints. For this reason, many heads to the Puritama Hot Springs, a naturally-occurring set of thermal pools that have been expanded by locals to accommodate demand. Despite the modern amenities – bathrooms and changing areas, for example – the area retains an untouched feel. Pampas grasses sprout alongside the “terms” and the neighboring sandstone cliffs provide a striking backdrop for your relaxing soak.
Torres del Paine National Park
Of all the national parks in Chile, this one is the best for those who love beautiful landscapes. Down in the southern end of the country’s portion of Patagonia, rocky mountains cut the sky above cold lakes fed by glacial runoff. The resulting fertility of the land has turned the valley floors into a thick carpet of lush forests and tall grasses. Set against the dark granite faces of the sheer cliff faces, the color palette is amazing for shutterbugs looking to bring out their inner Ansel Adams.
Falling under the jurisdiction of the Chilean government despite being more than 2,000 miles off the coast, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t spend a day or two on this famously isolated landmass. The huge moai head statues are what attract most visitors, but you will find plenty of hiking trails and several magnificent sea caves to explore. At the end of the day, regardless of how many of the 850 volcanic statues you’ve seen, you will want to park yourself somewhere for one of the island’s trademark sunsets. Watch the purple-orange swirl rise from the horizon as night falls and you’ll understand why the Rapanui people traveled so far to make this place home.
When to Visit Chile
Summer months from December to March are ideal for vacationing in the southern Lake District and Torres del Paine. The winter season from July to September is perfect for skiers and winter sports lovers.
Travel to Chile
Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benitez in Santiago handles all intercontinental flights. The airports in Arica, Iquique, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, and Temuco cater to flights from neighboring countries. Chile is accessible by road from almost countries in South America. Regular bus services connect Chile to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
- Location: On the southwestern strip of South America bordering the Pacific Ocean to its west, Peru to its north, Bolivia to its northeast, and Argentina to its east and south
- Capital city: Santiago
- Language/s: Spanish
- Currency: Peso
- Time Zone: UTC — 3, Summertime: UTC — 4
- ISD Code: 56