Most of the guidebooks will tell you to take your time with Chile. It’s made for slow adventure and best suited for those who travel with a heart and mind open to experiencing the moment. Chile is uniquely shaped, long and narrow, which can make travelling the country a little challenging. With over 4,000km from one end to the other, you can expect long and always interesting bus rides on your way to explore deserts, fertile valleys, volcanoes, lakes, fjords, glaciers, the Andes mountain range, dunes, and incredible coastline.
Going east to west, you’ve got the Pacific on one end and the Andes on the other. The locals have a relaxed culture that invites you to sit down and share a story or two; they call it la buena onda, or good vibes. Once you let go of the daily grind, you’ll really want to sink in here.
And don’t forget some of the most amazing wine on the planet. Mixed with some of the best company on the planet and you’ll never want to leave. Here’s the 15 best places to visit in Chile!
1. Elqui Valley
The Elqui Valley stretches about 140km from the beach town of La Serena all the way to the Argentinean border. Steep mountains on both sides give way to a fertile green valley complete with vineyards, pisco distilleries, avocados, papayas, and oranges.
Charming little towns can be found throughout the valley and many of the pisco distilleries you come across will be too inviting to pass up a tasting.
Don’t miss the Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca, the valleys most popular attraction. Here you can see other galaxies through their 30cm telescope. For the perfect end to any day, you’ll love star gazing and UFO sighting under crystal clear skies.
One of the most unique cities in Chile is Valparaiso. Climbing up the sides of 42 hills, the city has a bohemian vibe that everyone loves. There are several funiculars that take you up and down various hills so that you can enjoy the view and the many colourful houses at the top.
You’ll also love getting lost in the maze of cobblestone alleys that somehow magically connect all the hills. Stop in to a different “little café” every day, enjoy the street art, and in the evenings, watch the lights sparkle across the bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is still undergoing restoration, but even in this period of transition, the town offers incredible colour and charm.
You might want to check out La Sebastiana, the former home of poet Pablo Neruda, and downtown’s Plaza Sotomayor.
3. Torres Del Paine
You really can’t miss the granite pillars of Torres del Pain, or the Tower of Paine. They rise more than 2000m over the Patagonian steppe and dominate what is possibly the most majestic national park in all of South America.
Though long exploited before it became a national park, there is still a ton of “wow” to be seen here. Everyone will love the trails that take you through lush forests, rickety bridges over rushing rivers, and a giant and vibrant blue glacier. A designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for almost 40 years, you’ll find Andean condors, flamingo, rhea, and more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a peek at the guanaco, the puma, and the endangered huemul.
If you’re looking for a great camping experience, try the “W” trek that allows you to sleep in beds and get warm meals all along the way.
4. San Pedro De Atacama
A tiny town in northern Chile, San Pedro De Atacama is a Spanish colonial town surrounded by the driest desert in the world. Set on a high plateau in the Andes, you’ll find salt flats, geyser, hot springs, and salt flats here.
Be sure to stop by the Valle de la Luna to see the unique rock formations, lunar-like depression, and pink-streaked mountains. Get lost in the adobe streets and tree-lined plaza while rambling through this charming town.
There’s a high concentration of copper and quartz in the region which is given all the credit for the good vibes in this popular tourist destination.
The capital and largest city in Chile is Santiago. It sits in a valley surrounded by the breathtaking snow capped Andes Mountains. Locals will tell you that Santiago IS Chile, and it really won’t take long before you agree. Plaza de Armas is the city’s colonial heartbeat.
You’ll find two extraordinary landmarks, the Royal Court Palace, home of the National History Museum, and the Metropolitan Cathedral, built in the 18th century. Each neighbourhood has its own distinct vibe and it’s a fun game to see which one feels most like home for you. In the evenings, check out Barrio Bellavista and Barrio Brasil for the crazy all-night parties.
Santiago is surprisingly cosmopolitan and filed with history, cultural events, fine-dining, and incredible nature.
6. Vina del Mar
Most people come to Vina del Mar for the beaches. But there is a whole other side to this important Chilean town. One hour north of Santiago, you’ll find La Quinta Vergara, an exotic garden in the heart of the city; each February there’s a huge music festival held in the garden.
Parque Reloj de Flore, a giant outdoor clock nestled in a huge flower bed and considered by most visitors to be one of the more interesting places in the city. There’s also Castilo Wulff, a quirky castle sitting on a rocky outcropping of the beach.
The architecture is decidedly European, which makes it stand out oddly. There’s a casino inside the castle which makes a nice evening diversion after sunning and swimming all day.
7. Easter Island
In the middle of the Pacific, about 3200km from Chile is Rapa Nue and Isla de Pascua. Discovered by the Dutch in the 18th century, Easter Island is the most isolated and yet still inhabited island in the world.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for the enormous statues carved from volcanic rock and representing the same figure; perhaps a god or other ancestor. You have to fly to island in order to get there and there are a number of guided tours that are worth the money in order to hear the mysteries of the island explained – to the best anyone understands.
Annexed by Chile over 100 years ago, this tiny island is one of Earth’s greatest mysteries, and surely not to be missed.
Antofagasta is definitely an urban working class city and many tourists don’t tend to spend much time here.
But it’s worth a stop to explore the old-fashioned plaza and the Barrio Histórico with its remarkable Georgian and Victorian architecture.
It’s a major port town and a walk along the piers will make you feel that you’ve stepped back in time a century or two.
Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Arica is the northernmost city in Chile, close to the Peruvian border.
The area was inhabited as long ago as 6000 BC and the native tribes who lived here knew agriculture, pottery, and were considered a part of the Incan Empire. Today, Arica is a lovely seaside resort, complete with miles of coastline, golden dunes, and an energetic nightlife.
It makes a great jumping off point to explore the inland ruins of ancient cultures as well as Lauca National Park – which has the highest mountain lake on Earth.
10. The Chilean Lake District
If you want nature, Chile’s lake district is the place to go. Alerce (Larch) forests, volcanoes capped with snow, fabulous mountain lakes, traditional folklore and handicrafts, and year-round outdoor adventure can all be found here.
Home to 12 major lakes and a few dozen smaller ones, the district is well named. You’ll also find hot springs, rivers, waterfalls, and six volcanoes – the highest (Villarica) topping out at 2800m. There are several great towns in the district.
Consider visiting Temuco, Puerto Montt, Chiloé, and the Chiloé Archipelago with its hundreds of tiny islands.
11. Puerto Montt
A city of note in the Lake District is Puerto Montt. It’s the capital of the district and the gateway to the Patagonian fjords as well as the Andes Mountains.
The Plaza de Armas square is home to a 19th century neoclassical cathedral, and Casa del Arte Diego Rivera is a surprisingly gallery with works by both national and local artists.
Nearby you’ll find Caleta de Angelmó, a great local market, and a little further out you’ll find the active volcano, Calbuco.
At one time, Talca was a major Chilean city. The country’s declaration of independence was signed here in 1818.
Today, it makes a perfect home base to explore this incredible region. At the top of the “must-see” list are the phenomenal Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay and the Maule Valley vineyards.
It’s a cosy town with great views of the Andes and you’ll love spending a few slow days here to rest and recuperate.
Another great base camp town is Copiapó. It’s most often used by those who want to adventure into Laguna Verde, Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces, and Ojos del Salado, the world’s highest active volcano.
Copiapó had the nation’s first telegraph and telephone lines, and was the first place to use gas. All of this was due to the gold rush of the 18th century.
There’s a wonderful main plaza here and lots of historic buildings to discover, though it’s mainly a hard-working mining town with lots of character.
Valdivia is a thriving university town that is well known, among other things, for the arts and an eclectic craft beer culture. However, most come for the history and the beauty of the city and surrounding areas. Valdivian Week is well known among travellers and commemorates the founding of the city.
If you’re there at this time, you’ll love the artisan market, amusement rides, the parade of ships, and the fireworks extravaganza that ends the week. One of the most popular historical buildings is the Mercado Municipal, or municipal market. Once a simple market, it’s now a food Mecca.
Be sure to check out, Saint Francis Convent and the dozen of European influence buildings beings used by the city’s cultural centres and government.
15. La Serena
Thanks to some stellar beaches and historic architecture, Chile’s second oldest city has become a very popular destination among domestic and foreign tourists. Nicknamed the City of the Belfries because of the many churches, the old part of the city is consider to be the most important “traditional area” in all of Chile.
Avenida del Mar, or Sea Avenue, runs for about 6km and is separated into 12 beaches. All of which are great for sunning and any number of water sports. Each summer you can attend the La Serena Song Festival, which has been growing in prominence since 2004.
The history buffs will enjoy the Church Cathedral of La Serena which was designated an UNESCO Historical Monument in 1981.