Spanning half the length of South America, Chile is as varied as it is long with one of the world’s driest deserts in the north and the gigantic glacial fields of Patagonia in the south. We’ve chosen our top eight things to do in Chile, from exploring scenic Santiago, one of the highest capital cities in the world, and sampling the wine of the Colchagua Valley, to discovering the vast wind-swept landscape of Patagonia in Torres del Paine National Park and meeting penguins on Magdalena Island.
1. Get under the skin of the capital
Framed by snow-capped Andean mountains on its eastern flank and a range of smaller coastal peaks to the west, the city of Santiago enjoys a remarkably scenic setting in Chile’s Central Valley. As the cultural and economic heart of the country, it’s the best place to get under the skin of Chile’s national identity with a thriving arts scene, superb museums, vibrant theatre and music, and first-rate cuisine.
2. Explore the Lake District
The charming town of Puerto Varas has long been a popular tourist destination for its surrounding natural beauty and is the perfect base to explore Chile’s Lake District. Located 76 kilometres east of Puerto Varas, Lake Todos los Santos is relatively easy to reach and well worth seeing. Translated as 'All Saints Lake', this large body of water is framed by snow-capped volcanoes and verdant forests and is particularly beautiful at sunset when the sky's changing colours reflect on the water's surface.
3. Meet the resident penguins
Sat on the shores of the Magellan Strait with the ocean to the east, Punta Arenas provides excellent access to a number of penguin colonies, notably Magdalena Island and the Seno Otway colony. The Seno Otway colony serves as the nesting site for around 5000 of these cute black and white fellows with beachfront hides allowing visitors to watch as they wade wade out of the water and head inland.
4. Marvel at the beauty of Torres del Paine
The remarkably smooth granite pillars of Torres del Paine with their twisted peaks are perhaps one of the world’s most amazing geographical features rising as they do from the flat pampa. This spectacular massif forms the centrepiece of the incredible Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, encompassing emerald forests, raging rivers, picture-perfect lakes and impressive blue glaciers besides.
5. Discover the Atacama Desert
Stretching some 1000 kilometres across northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is a cool and arid expanse that is home to some of the country's most spectacular scenery and unique landscapes. Nestled within this desert this the small oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, the tourist centre of the region with a bounty of local attractions nearby. San Pedro is only a short ride away from the Valley of the Moon and Chile’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Atacama. North of town is the Tatio geysers, a field full of steaming blowholes.
6. Sample local wine
The 120-kilometre long Colchagua Valley, is home to one of Chile’s best-known wine regions and well worth a tipple or two. Regularly appearing on the world’s list of best wines, the Colchagua Valley produces excellent Cabernet, Carmenere, Syrah, and Malbec. The extensive vineyards mostly congregate around the centre of the valley and offer tours and tastings of their local wine.
7. Say Hello to Huilo Huilo
Spanning some 100,000 hectares, Huilo Huilo is a private reserve of temperate rainforest, rich in biodiversity and home to a number of endemic species of flora and fauna. The reserve contains various ecosystems ranging from lush Valdivian rainforest to vast pampas of dense vegetation with the stunning snow-capped peak of Choshuenco volcano looming in the distance. Spend a couple nights here and explore all it has to offer, from the impressive Huilo Huilo Falls, to South America's longest zipline and the world's smallest deer.
8. Trek around Lake Villarrica
Flanked by the perfectly conical volcano of the same name, the divinely blue Lake Villarrica rates highly as one of Chile’s most popular destinations. Located in the Lake District of Chile, the whole area is surrounded by lakes, mountains, forests, hot springs, rivers, waterfalls and the active Volcano Villarrica whose crater spends most of its day billowing smoke and on clear nights emits an eerie red glow. These natural attractions offer a wealth of adventure activities from trekking, white water rafting, mountain biking, water sports on the lake, hiking to the summit of the volcano and skiing during the winter months.