Framed by the snow-capped Andean mountains to the east and a smaller coastal range to the west, Santiago basks in one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world and on a clear day, a glance through the downtown blocks reveals this mighty circle of mountains. In the heart of Santiago you’ll find a quirky, cultured and ambitious capital city – gleaming towers in the financial district of Las Condas look down over the charming old district of Barrio Brasil where the bohemians gather for afternoon coffee in hip cafes. With fine museums, a flourishing arts scene, thriving culinary enclaves and leafy, exotic suburban parks, there’s plenty to discover here. And beyond the city’s urban sprawl, there’s a huge range of outdoor activities on offer. Right on Santiago’s doorstep are the exhilarating possibilities of trekking, kayaking, horseback riding, skiing and wine tours - those mountains aren’t just for decoration!
Located in the extreme south region of Patagonian Chile, the Torres del Paine National Park may just be South America’s finest. The spectacular granite pillars, known as the Towers of Blue and what give the national park its name, jut out some 2800m above the Patagonian steppe and dominate the landscape. These breathtaking spires are flanked by the summit of Paine Grande and the sharp tusks of black sedimentary peaks known as Los Cuernos. Below these towering peaks lie emerald forests, roaring rivers, radiant glaciers and azure lakes. The park is a hiker’s dream with a highly developed infrastructure, well-maintained trails and beautiful campsites. The stunning scenery with vividly coloured flowers and rich evergreen plants is bound to take your breath away, and the park is also home to an array of bird species, including the ostrich-like rhea, Andean condors and flamingos, making it a nature lover’s paradise.
OUR PICK #3
A lake of azure blue waters, surrounded by a perfectly conical volcano, Lake Villarrica is one of the best places to visit in Chile if you'd like to make the most of the country's scenery. 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. 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. The town of Pucon is the best place to sample all that the region has to offer with great infrastructure, quality accommodations and a diverse selection of restaurants. With spectacular views of the volcano, it’s a popular place and well-equipped to help with the traveller’s wildest dreams.
Positioned amongst spectacular scenery of desert and altiplano in northern Chile, the small oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama is the tourist centre of the region with a bounty of local attractions to keep travellers busy for days. It's the incredible lunar-like landscape of volcanoes, desolate plains and brilliant lakes that primarily attracts visitors and San Pedro de Atacama. Nearby Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a perfect example of this dramatic scenery. South of town is Chile's largest salt flat, the Salar de Atacama. Spanning 3,000-square-kilometres, the vast salt flat contains several small lakes where flamingoes congregate and plates of salt float in the beautiful waters. North of town is the Tatio geysers, a field full of steaming blowholes that shoot thermal waters high into the air. This brilliant spectacle is complemented by a swimming pool and a nearby rock pool.
OUR PICK #5
Located in Chile's Central Valley, a fertile land blanketed in huge orchards and vineyards, the picturesque town of Santa Cruz is a fantastic place to visit classic haciendas and sample some of the world's best wines. This charming, rustic town sits in the centre of one of the country's most renowned wine-making districts and many wineries in the region offer tours and tastings with an excellent selection of restaurants close by. For those with a day or two to spare, the Central Valley is dotted with lovely colonial villages and Santa Cruz is not far from the village of Vichuquén, a perfect example of the region's colourful adobe houses dating back to the 19th century with roofs made of clay-tiles. Beautiful flowers and fruit trees line the narrow streets of Vichuquén and only 4km away is the scenic Lake Vichuquén.
Punta Arenas is one of Chile's southernmost outposts and sat on the shores of the Magellan Strait with the ocean to the east, it provides excellent access to a number of penguin colonies, notably Magdalena Island and the Seno Otway colony. As the largest penguin colony in Chile, Magdalena Island is home to over 120,000 Magellanic penguins between the months of September and March when the flightless birds flock to the island to find their partner and mate before returning to the sea. North of Punta Arenas, the Seno Otway colony serves as the nesting site for some 5000 penguins with beachfront hides allowing visitors the chance to watch as the creatures wade out of the water and head inland.
Our pick #7
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui to its native Polynesian inhabitants, has to be one of the world’s most mysterious destinations. The tiny speck of an island, 2,200 miles east of Chile, is home to 887 mythic moai statues. While we know the dramatic statues were created by the Rapa Nui people between 1250 and 1500 CE, its how they were made, moved and erected by a pre Stone Age society that defies belief. One of the best places to see these statues is Ahu Tongariki. 15 larger than life statues stand proudly near the coast edge, some reaching nearly 40 feet tall, with the cliffs of Poike a stunning background. There are plenty of activities to enjoy on this picturesque volcanic island. Dive and snorkel in the crystal clear waters, go surfing off one of the golden beaches and head out on one of the many hiking trails to the island’s dramatic volcanic craters. If you're spending some time in Chile then you'll want to consider adding on a few days in this most remote of tropical islands.
The Chiloé archipelago, found off the coast of Chile, is the ideal choice for those looking for a slice of rural tranquillity and some stunning natural landscapes to escape to. Their secluded location means they have managed to maintain their traditional way of life of over the year. Chiloé Island, the continent’s fifth largest island, is best known for its colourful wooden churches. 16 of the quaint palafitos have been declared as a UNESCO site. Chiloé National Park is full of lush scenic landscapes with rivers and lakes threading through the dense forests. Tantauco National Park is found in the wildest territory of the island and was declared one of the 35 key sites of biodiversity on Earth thanks to all the endangered species of flora it holds.
Our pick #9
If you were to use three words to describe Valparaiso, you’d have to use gritty, bohemian and charming. One of Chile’s, maybe even South America’s, most underrated destinations, it’s nickname is the ‘Jewel of the Pacific’. A town that welcomed emigrating Europeans in the 19th century it fell into sharp decline after the opening of the Panama Canal. It has gracefully been decaying ever since, however, funds have recently been channelled into the city to give it a bit of a face-lift whilst keeping the beaten-up charm. Top-tier restaurants and boutique hotels have opened to cater for the growing number of tourists. The laid-back city is spread across a series of hills, the vibrant coloured houses covering the hillsides. One of the best ways to view and traverse this city is by one of the nine funicular railways taking you up and down the steep slopes. Stroll through the narrow lanes of the Historic Quarter to admire the historic buildings along the seaside.
Our pick #10
Lauca National Park
For nature lovers, Lauca National Park is one of the best places to visit in Chile. With altitudes of 4,000m to 6,000m, it certainly isn’t just the thin air that will leave you breathless – the scenery here is absolutely marvellous. The sweeping imposing landscape, covering the pre-Andean mountain chain, is dotted with snow-topped volcanic cones. This area of untouched beauty holds a wealth of wildlife, with it easy to spot grazing herds of llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and vizcachas across the green meadows, the lakes sprinkled with vibrant pink flamingos. The astonishing Lake Chungará, one of the highest lakes in the world, can be found at the foot of the twin Payachata volcanoes, the two cones reflected in the glass-like water.
For further information to help plan your trip to Chile, see the following: