Chile is complicated. And I mean that in the best way possible. With its mountains, coastline, deserts, and glaciers, this country is home to some of the most spectacular and tantalizing landscapes on Earth. After three visits to Chile, I left last time ready to plan yet another trip (yeah, I think I’m a bit of an addict…). There are just TOO MANY incredible places to visit in Chile. I can’t do and see everything in just 1 (or 3…) trips! Chile is like a bowl of the best macaroni and cheese in the world – I just keep wanting to come back for more and more.
Here’s an example. In Chile, you can start your day off hiking a volcano, go wine tasting in the afternoon, sample amazing local seafood dishes for dinner, and lay out a blanket at night to see some of the most amazing stars at night. I know this because I DID IT, and you can too if you visit! There are so many interesting facts about Chile that I could share here, but traveling there is really the only way to understand this vibrant country.
But don’t let me be your only guide. Here are 15 of the most amazing places in Chile that you can visit. (I wish I could say I’ve been to every single one of them, but a few are still on my own Chilean bucket list!) Check them out and see if you don’t start to fall in love with this amazing and diverse country.
Hey, you! If you’re interested in planning a trip to Chile, check out some of these other posts:
- The Ultimate Guide to Trekking the W in Torres del Paine National Park
- Things to Do in Santiago: The City’s Best Highlights & Hidden Gems
- 9 Incredible and Inspiring Day Trips from Santiago
15 Incredible Places to Visit in Chile
Santiago de Chile
Santiago is Chile’s lively capital city and is probably the place you’ll arrive, unless you’re crossing a land border from a neighboring country. The country’s largest airport is here, and it’s also the largest city in the country, perfect for people looking for a variety of urban experiences.
Some visitors to Chile are tempted to skip Santiago, but I think it’s definitely worth exploring for a few days if you have the time! While it’s not one of the most picturesque places to visit in Chile, it has HUGE cultural significance within the country.
With world-class museums, restaurants, nightlife, and views, Santiago is full of awesome activities. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Santiago:
- Take a free walking tour: There’s no better way to orient yourself to a new city than by taking a tip-based guided walking tour. Your guide will explain the history of the city and show you around to some of the most fabulous places to explore.
- Climb a hill for spectacular views: Santiago is a city with a ton of topography, with hills and mountains everywhere. There are two hills with stunning views that are popular for tourists: Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. If you’d rather not climb stairs in the Santiago heat (I don’t blame you), you can take a funicular car to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal for a small fee.
- Learn about Chile’s history: There are tons of awesome museums in Santiago, from fine art to history and more. I was especially moved by the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos, which details the political prisoner crisis and dictatorship that happened in Chile from 1973 to 1990.
- Eat the most delicious Chilean food ever: Chilean food is surprisingly awesome. My favorite dish is the paila marina, a delicious seafood soup that you can find in little home-style restaurants tucked into the corners of Santiago’s Mercado Central. Top it off with a sweet mote con huesillo from a street vendor and your whole meal is complete.
- Take a day trip: Santiago is a fantastic place to base yourself for a few days while you’re exploring the surrounding areas. If you have extra time in the area, take one of the popular day trips from Santiago to see the coast, drink some wine, or go for a hike in the Andes.
For more information about Santiago, we wrote a complete guide to the city. Check it out below:
How to Get to Santiago de Chile
Fly into Santiago’s Benito Arturo International Airport (SCL) and then take an airport transfer shuttle like TransVIP into the city center. Many international airlines fly into Santiago from the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
If you’ve been hanging out in the mountains and deserts and need a beach escape for a few days, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are the perfect places to visit in Chile. Although Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are two different places, I’ve grouped these cities together because they’re neighbors, and quite easy to visit on the same trip.
Endearingly called “Valpo” by Chilean locals, Valparaíso is a colorful city located on a steep hillside. You can wander for hours through the many staircases and alleys of street art (what I did), or grab a coffee and peruse the many small artisan shops, cute cafes, and galleries (also what I did).
Viña del Mar is Valparaiso’s beachy counterpart. Narrow staircases give way to flatter lands with a more commercial spin. Large beach resorts and upscale dining options collide with the city’s several miles of sand interspersed with jagged rocks and the occasional sea lion. Here, you can live your best beach life, sipping pisco sours on the sand and pretending to be a Chilean celebrity.
While both of these cities are best for simply wandering around or relaxing on a terrace somewhere, here are some other fun things to do in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar:
- Eat some seafood: Being on the seaside, Valparaiso & Vina del Mar also have AMAZING seafood options that local portenos boast as some of the best in the country. While I didn’t get to eat there the last TWO times I was in Valparaiso (the owners were out of town both times), locals say that Tres Peces is one of the best of the best restaurants in the city for seafood. Alternatively, head straight to the source at the Caleta Portales, which in addition to the day’s fresh catches, you can sample freshly made ceviche and marinated mariscos.
- Take a free walking tour: Valparaiso has TWO free daily walking tours (you just have to tip the guide at the end) – 10 AM and 3 PM. These begin near the base of Cerro Concepcion and will give you lots of amazing historical context of the city, as well as taking you to some of the best street art areas and miradores of the city and the ocean.
- Get out on the water: As two cities located on the seaside, there’s no better way to get amazing views of the cities themselves than by taking a public guided boat tour. For budget travelers, there’s a local one that leaves from the port of Valparaiso throughout the day for just $4,000 CLP. (And, like it sounds, you’ll be nice and cozy with a bunch of local tourists wielding selfie sticks. It’s definitely an experience…) Travelers who prefer a bit more comfort can opt for a private guided boat tour on a nicer boat.
How to get to Valparaiso & Vina del Mar
Valparaiso is located under two hours from Santiago on an easy highway drive. There are also buses that service both Valparaiso and Vina del Mar every 5-15 minutes or so. So yeah, you’ll never really run out of ways to get there, even if you don’t have a car.
Getting to Valparaiso is super easy – all you have to do is take the metro red line or an Uber to Pajaritos bus station, then check the TVs hanging from the ceiling for departure times.
When you’ve found a bus you want to take, head to that company’s kiosk to buy a ticket and then head outside to board your bus. Tickets to Valparaiso (at the time of writing, in March 2019) are ~$3,000-3,500 CLP per person and come with an assigned seat, and fares to Vina del Mar should be slightly more expensive if not the exact same.
Maipo Valley & Casablanca Valley
One of Chile’s prized contributions to the world is its rich and flavorful wine. In Chile, winemakers grow both red and white grapes, making for an incredible variety of tastes and flavors. Maipo Valley and Casablanca Valley are two of the dozens of winemaking regions in Chile, both within a short drive from Santiago.
While Maipo Valley and Casablanca are two very different wine regions, I’ve grouped them together here solely because of their proximity to the capital city. However, they are quite different. For example, in Casablanca Valley, you’ll often find wines that use Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes, while Maipo Valley commonly has full-body red wines on offer.
It’s worth visiting each valley separately to understand the differences between them. It’s easy to spend a day or more hopping around to the different wineries in each valley. Each one has its on unique history and methodology for winemaking, which I found totally fascinating during my travels in each.
If you’re looking for a way to relax and see one of the finest Chilean exports, look no further than the vineyards in the valleys surrounding the Andes mountains.
How to Get to Maipo and Casablanca Valleys
Many tour operators from Santiago offer full-day wine tours to both Maipo and Casablanca Valleys. Alternatively, you can take public transit or rent a car and (responsibly) visit them yourself.
The Atacama Desert
Located in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is famous for being one of the driest places in the entire world. For this reason, the stargazing and astronomy opportunities here are unlike any others in the world, and the desert is home to several observatories and research facilities like ALMA.
In addition to space observation, there are many otherworldly landscapes to explore. During your stay, it’s best to base yourself in San Pedro de Atacama and take daytime excursions out from there.
Luckily, for tourists, there are TONS of tour operators and agencies with a variety of different tours you can take around the Atacama Desert.
Here are a few of the most popular activities in the Atacama Desert:
- Explore Geysers del Tatio at sunrise: The Atacama Desert is home to some of the most incredible geyser activity in the entire continent – the Geysers del Tatio. Tours leave early in the morning so you can catch the most active time of day for these bubbling geothermal hotspots.
- Summit a volcano: Dotted with volcanoes all over, it’s hard NOT to feel tempted to climb one while visiting the Atacama Desert. Luckily, you can! There are guided hikes to the summits of dormant and active volcanoes. Cerro Toco and Volcan Laskar are two of the most popular volcano hikes from San Pedro de Atacama.
- Sandboard down the sand dunes: If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-inducing activity, you can strap on some boots and sandboard down the dunes of the desert. There are beginner lessons offered by Sandboard San Pedro that are perfect for people who are curious to try it but don’t know where to begin.
- Explore nearby salt flats and lakes: There are several other incredible natural attractions to see in the Atacama Desert. Some of these include expansive salt flats and lagoons. My personal favorite was the Piedras Rojas tour, which took us to some seriously incredible landscapes in the Atacama region.
- Visit an observatory: Space geeks, rejoice! There are several observatories that you can visit in the Atacama Desert as a tourist, including SPACE Obs and ALMA (radio telescope array). During the evenings, you can see nebulas, constellations, and more using the powerful telescopes the tours have available.
How to Get to San Pedro de Atacama
Fly into Calama Airport (CUC), then take an airport shuttle or a public bus to San Pedro de Atacama. It should take around 1.5-2 hours to get from Calama to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.
Cajón del Maipo
Just a quick trip from Santiago, Cajon del Maipo is one of the most beautiful areas in the Andes Mountains. This area is largely composed of a valley in the middle of the Andes that boasts stellar views, fun adventure activities, and amazing hiking trails.
Despite its proximity to Santiago, Cajon del Maipo is home to glaciers, lakes, hot springs, and more. It’s definitely the most accessible mountain escape in Chile. At less than an hour from Santiago’s city center, Cajon del Maipo is a perfect outdoor day trip or a short weekend getaway.
Here are just a few activities you can try in Cajon del Maipo:
- Hike to a glacier: There are several glaciers in the Cajon del Maipo region, which you can hike to in a single day. A couple of the most popular day hikes include Glaciar San Francisco and Glaciar El Morado.
- Explore El Yeso reservoir: El Yeso is probably the most iconic and picturesque area of Cajon del Maipo. It’s a large lake surrounded by snowy peaks – what’s not to love? The easiest way to get to El Yeso is by driving yourself or booking a guided tour.
- Relax in some hot springs: Given Chile’s geothermal activity, there are a couple of hot springs you can enjoy in the Cajon del Maipo region. The two most popular ones for tourists are the Banos Colina, perfect for chilling out after a day of hiking.
- Go rafting in the Maipo River: There are a bunch of outfitters that offer rafting trips in Cajon del Maipo. These tours are a few hours in length and go through some serious rapids! Many travelers recommend Rafting Ruta Vertical for rafting trips in Cajon del Maipo.
How to Get to Cajon del Maipo
Of all of our favorite places to visit in Chile, this might be the easiest to get to from Santiago. You can take public transportation to arrive in several areas of Cajon del Maipo, or rent a car in Santiago and drive there yourself.
Located abut over 470 km north of Santiago, Chile’s Elqui Valley is an amazing place for wine tasting, hiking, and stargazing. This region is a conglomeration of several small towns, stretching from the seaside in La Serena inwards. Home to a dry climate, charming small towns, and amazing food and drink options, you’ll enjoy the attractions in the Elqui Valley no matter what kind of traveler you are.
Recently, Elqui Valley was named the first international Dark Sky Sanctuary, which means you can find some of the most amazing night sky views in the world from this region.
Curious to learn more? Here are a couple of awesome things to do in Elqui Valley:
- Go wine or pisco tasting: The Elqui Valley is home to some of the best wine and pisco production in the country. You can visit several wineries during your stay, most which specialize in Syrah and Carmenere grapes. There are also several pisco distilleries that offer tastings of some of the best pisco in Chile.
- Enjoy a horseback trek: With its beautiful mountains and natural areas, there’s a lot of landscapes to explore in the Elqui Valley. You can hike to various areas on foot or take a horseback riding tour to catch a glimpse of this picturesque valley.
- Watch the night sky: Elqui Valley is home to some pretty epic places to watch the night sky, including in your own glass eco-dome! If you’re looking for an amazing astronomy experience, this is one of the best places to visit in Chile. You can learn the constellations while sipping a wine and enjoying the cool night air of the region.
How to Get to Elqui Valley
Fly into La Serena (LSC), then take a car through nearby small villages to arrive in Elqui Valley. The journey’s length depends on where in the Elqui Valley you plan to stay.
The Lake District
In Northern Patagonia lies Chile’s famed Lake District, which is full of sweeping mountains, sparkling lakes, and incredible geographic marvels. The entirety of the Lake District spans two of Chile’s regions and encompasses several thousands of kilometers of the country. Some of the most notable cities in the area include Puerto Montt, Coyhaique, Pucon, Puerto Varas, and Temuco.
While here, you can explore Conguillio National Park or hike one of the many mountains or volcanoes that dot the area. Alternatively, enjoy the water by booking a waterfront resort or going for a boat tour. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a few days (or weeks!) in the Lake District – it’s unbelievably beautiful and you’ll get a unique taste of Chile’s landscape and culture.
If you’re interested in learning about more things to do in the Lake District, check out this post.
How to Get to the Lake District
You can fly into a variety of different airports to arrive in the Lake Region. Puerto Montt (PMC) is the most common airport in the region. From there, I recommend renting a car to explore, as public transportation is limited in the region and the bus schedules can be somewhat sparse.
Pristine nature, fascinating history and culture, and beautiful small towns dot the island of Chiloé. Chiloé is home to a whopping 16 incredible UNESCO world heritage sites. Many of these recognized sites are old, historic churches built of wood, like the Church of San Francisco.
Other common activities in Chiloé include kayaking, hiking, exploring the colorful towns, and learning about the fascinating legends surrounding this place. There are two national parks in the area – Chiloé and Tantauco – that provide ample opportunities for outdoor adventures or relaxation in nature.
Want to learn more about Chiloé? Check out this amazing post by Where She Goes Today.
How to Get to Chiloé Island
You can get to Chiloé from Puerto Montt (90 km away) by driving/taking a bus to Pargua, then taking the ferry to the island. Once there, you can either drive your own (rental) car or use buses to get around the island.
Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Ah, the famed Easter Island, more correctly known as Rapa Nui. It’s a beauty, isn’t it? The most iconic view of Easter Island is of the mysterious head statues that almost everyone has seen in photos. But did you know that this baffling place is actually a territory of Chile?
Now known as the most isolated inhabited island in the world, Rapa Nui was originally inhabited by indigenous people linked to Polynesia. The famed heads here, known as the Moai Statues, are the main draw of the island, which now makes significant revenue from the tourism operations in the area.
A visit to Easter Island is neither cheap nor easy, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor to experience one of the most remote islands in the entire world. If you’re trying to save a bit of money while there, go camping on the island to bask in its beautiful nature. Additionally, booking your flight far in advance can help you reduce travel costs.
If you’re interested in learning more about Easter Island, here are some great things to do on Easter Island to get you started.
How to Get to Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Getting to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is fairly costly, but is easy with regular direct flights from Santiago. LATAM is the only airline that services the island, so the costs are typically anywhere from $400 to $1000+ round trip from Santiago. Once there, you can rent a bike, join a tour, or walk to begin exploring.
Located on the northernmost tip of Chile on the coast, Arica is a gorgeous little beach town that attracts sunbathers and surfers alike. Because of its proximity to dry areas like the Atacama Desert, Arica has balmy weather pretty much the entire year, making it an ideal little gem on the many kilometers of Chile’s Pacific coast.
Most people come to Arica to relax for a few days before they cross over the border to Peru. This means there are several beach hotels, resorts, and hangouts to lounge around in.
Aside from simply lounging at the beach, here are a few other things you can do in Arica:
- Climb El Morro de Arica: Arica is home to a large hill, called El Morro de Arica, which is home to the best views of the city. The Morro is also home to lots of important history in Chile, on display at its Museo de Armas, during wars with neighborhing Peru in the 1800s.
- Visit the Cuevas de Anzota: Just over 10 kilometers from Arica lies a system of caves known as the Cuevas de Anzota. These jagged caves, canyons, and rock formations are a fun place to explore the unique landscape and wildlife of the area.
- Try your hand at surfing or watersports: Because of its perfect waves, sunshine, and wind, Arica is the perfect place to lean watersports like surfing and bodyboarding and more.
How to Get to Arica
Fly into nearby Aeropuerto Chacalluta (ARI) and take a taxi or shared shuttle into the city center. From there, you can either rent a car or use taxis to get around.
Pucon & Villarica
Volcanoes. Lakes. Food. An amazing destination for any type of traveler, Pucon has these and more. Pucon is located in the heart of Mapuche territory, meaning that the indigenous influence ans greatly impacted the region’s food scene and culture.
While in Pucon, you can take some time to explore nearby Villarica, a gorgeous, snow capped volcano that looms in the distance seemingly everywhere you look. While there are plenty of amazing viewpoints of Villarica, the most intrepid of adventure travelers can also climb to its summit.
You can also get your adrenaline pumping with a variety of other adventure sports and tours. Some of these include canyoning, rafting, skiing, trekking, and wildlife watching in one of the nearby nature reserves or national parks.
How to Get to Pucon
Fly into Temuco (ZCO) then drive or take a shuttle ~1.5 hours to the town Pucon. From there, it’s easy to organize day tours for all of the adventure activities you’d like to try.
One of Chile’s spectacles that I’ve seen often online and am DYING to visit is the Marble Caves. Located deep in the waterways of Patagonia, the Marble Caves are a world-famous series of caves with gorgeous blue striations. While many people opt to go by motorboat, I’ll be choosing a kayak tour when I go for an immersive, tranquil, and eco-friendly experience.
You may be worried about taking such a long trek for a short, day-long excursion to the caves. Luckily, there’s a lot more to do in the region. If you’ve got a rental car, you can continue down the Carretera Austral for even more of those stunning Patagonian landscapes.
If you have more time, there’s also the option to tour nearby San Rafael Glacier. Compared to the more famous Perito Moreno or Grey Glacier, San Rafael receives a small number of visitors. It’s perfect for more intrepid travelers looking for a unique experience.
How to Get to the Marble Caves
Fly into Balmaceda, Chile and drive ~4 hours to Puerto Tranquilo. From there, you can book a guided excursion to the Marble Caves via boat or kayak.
The Carretera Austral
For the avid road trippers out there, the Carretera Austral is one of the most incredible highways in the world. You could spend weeks simply driving along this Patagonian thoroughfare and exploring the amazing hiking, photography, and wildlife watching opportunities it has to offer.
Beginning in Puerto Montt and extending over 1,200 km to Villa O’Higgins, this highway traverses most of Patagonia and offers some of the most picturesque stops along the way. Once you arrive, kayaking, trekking, backpacking, and wildlife expeditions await.
Torres del Paine National Park
Some of the world’s most iconic peaks come together in one of the most amazing places to visit in Chile – Torres del Paine National Park. In 2016, I first visited Torres del Paine for the W Trek and fell in love with its raw beauty. Craving even more, I decided that I’d tackle the O Circuit again in 2019. I’ve now trekked the entirety of the park and can’t wait to get back there again.
To my surprise, the park’s namesake viewpoint was not my favorite place in Torres del Paine. I was mesmerized by the dozens of other azure lakes and rocky peaks scattered throughout the park.
While the park has become more popular in the past few years, it certainly has not lost its magic. In addition to the famed W Trek, you can also (like me) embark on the longer O Circuit (~120 kilometers) or explore several of the park’s amazing adventure activities, hikes, and natural attractions.
Here are some of our top resources and guides for exploring Torres del Paine National Park:
- The Ultimate Guide to the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park
- The Complete Guide to Camping in Torres del Paine National Park
- 15 Photos of Torres del Paine that Will Make You Pack Your Bags
How to Get to Torres del Paine National Park
Fly into Punta Arenas (PUQ) then take a bus (~3 hours) to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales, there are daily bus departures around 7:00 AM for Torres del Paine National Park.
Punta Arenas & Tierra del Fuego
Located on the very southern tip of Chile is the town of Punta Arenas. Just look at it on the map! It literally looks like it’s on the end of the world.
As you can imagine, landing in Punta Arenas is eerie and beautiful at the same time. The skies are huge and the breeze is strong. While it’s not as full of rocky peaks like its northern Patagonian counterparts, there’s a different kind of magic here. From Punta Arenas, you can hop on day tours to see the magnificent wildlife in the area – penguins, whales, sea mammals, and more.
For even more adventure, you can also take a trip into the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego easily. Here, you can visit Ushuaia and see the surrounding areas there.
How to Get to Punta Arenas & Tierra del Fuego
You can fly directly into Punta Arenas (PUQ) and then use buses or a rental car to get around the area. There are several tour operators in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia (Argentina) that you can book wildlife excursions with.
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