UPDATED JANUARY 2020
Chile is one of the most fascinating and rewarding countries in South America. The long but narrow slither of land squeezed tight between the high Andes on the east and frigid Pacific on the west. The country’s unique geography has created even more unique geology, with a fantastical array of landscapes and ecosystems found in the north, centre and south. It would not be an exaggeration to say Chile offers outstanding adventures for anyone, at any time of year. From desert dreams in the north to delicious wine and food indulgences in the centre and eye-popping outdoor fun in the south – finding your favourite slice of Chile is just too easy.
The Most Famous Destinations in Chile
If you’ve never been to Chile before, it’s highly likely you’ve heard of some of its most famous highlights nevertheless. Here are the most famous five, in all their glory:
1. Torres del Paine National Park – SOUTH
Torres is often dubbed ‘the most beautiful and rewarding hiking destination in South America’ and anyone who’s been wouldn’t dare disagree. Torres is, quite simply, jaw-dropping. The most famous NP in Patagonia is defined by its very high, very jagged ‘towers’ which are among the most coveted mountaineering challenges in the world. Yet for most mere mortals, Torres is about glistening sapphire lakes and rolling hills brimming with guanaco. It’s about spotting a Patagonian fox on the way to (yet another) eye-popping viewpoint on a gorgeous trail and remote refugios that look like they’ve come straight out of a fairy-tale book. There’s hiking here for young and old, for active and less-active; for day walkers and those who love to challenge themselves on multi-day adventures. But, primarily, for anyone who loves being immersed in pristine wilderness.
Torres del Paine, with its magical landscape and outstanding wildlife, isn’t just Chile’s most incredible highlight: this is one of those places you need to see at least once in your life.
See our 4-day Eco-camp Experience in Torres del Paine
2. The Atacama Desert – NORTH
In the far north of the country, bordering Bolivia’s ethereal salty flats. Lies the driest desert on earth. Crusted with millennia-old salt deposits, the landscapes of the Atacama are otherworldly, multicoloured and even mystical. The hard ground in the Valley of the Moon crumbles with every step you take, the high sand dunes move with every passing season, and the geysers, rock formations and sky-reaching cliffs making you feel as you’ve been transported to another world. You have. The Atacama is like no other place on earth. Revered by astronomers for being among the top 3 stargazing places on earth, the Atacama is a place you’ll want to spend a few days exploring, at the very least.
Things to do in the Atacama – From watching the sun set over multi-hued Rainbow Valley to spending evenings gawking and learning about stars in world-class observatories; visiting high-altitude Tatio geysers and lagoons brimming with flamingos and framed by snow-capped peaks, as well as discovering petroglyphs that are more than 10,000 years old, the Atacama is, by far, one of the most exceptionally diverse deserts in the world.
From a 3-night luxury lodge stay to a 9-day overland journey through the Salt Flats of Bolivia, our Atacama Desert experiences offer an adventure for every explorer
3. Wine-growing regions– CENTRAL
Sometimes, we’ll meet prospective guests who want to visit Chile but know nothing about the country. Except for its world-class wines. Somehow, everyone knows about the wine!
Chileans have been making amazing wine for over 500 years although it seems the rest of the world only caught on in the last decade or so. This is the kind of wine-making country where even the least expensive bottle of red still tastes better than 90% of the wine you’ve ever tried in your life. Yet what makes Chile’s wine regions so enticing is the fact that they are all so damn beautiful, peppered with traditional villages and old farms that offer traditional food and exquisite overnight experiences. Yes, it’s about the wine…but not only.
Things to do in Chile’s wine region – Drink. Wine. Just kidding! Well, not really – the most rewarding wine-making regions to visit in Chile are the Colchagua Valley Maipo Valley (home to famous Concha y Toro wines and perhaps the most stunning, mountainous region), Aconcagua Valley (at the base of the highest mountain in the Americas) and the Casablanca Valley (where the first cool-climate vineyards in the country were established). All of these valleys are within an easy and quite spectacular drive from Santiago.
We combine the best destinations in South America to offer unparalleled Wine Tasting Experiences
4. Lakes District – SOUTH
If you’ve been to Torres and are craving more spectacular scenery then Chile’s Lakes District will be right up your alley. The Swiss corner of Chile, as so many call it, is all about volcanic snow-drenched peaks, super lush forests and glistening lakes. As far as the eye can see. Over two dozen lakes dot the landscape that stretches the width of the country, with 12 major lakes hogging most of the attention and rivers, waterfalls, thermal springs and six spectacular volcanoes offering a multitude of adventures along the way. A popular holiday spot for Chileans at any time of year, the Lakes District
Things to do in the Lakes District – A smattering of distinct Germanised villages are a nod to the earliest European immigrants, which greatly adds to the overall Alpine feel of the place. Down here, you can climb volcanoes, soak in natural thermal pools, spend a few days relaxing in indulgent lodges, ski in winter and hike for decades without ever running out of trails. You can also take a sightseeing cruise, bicycle or kayak learn all about the indigenous Mapuche culture. When planning a lovely route through the region, take particular note of Puerto Montt, which is the main springboard for two of our ‘hidden highlights’ detailed below.
See our best, all-encompassing Lakes District experiences
5. Easter Island – 3,700KM OFF THE SOUTHEAST COAST
Floating in a remote corner of the south-eastern Pacific, Easter Island is Chile’s remotest highlight. Rapa Nui, as it is called in the native Polynesian tongue, is world-renowned thanks to its centuries-year-old Moai, which are oversized human figurines carved by the island’s early inhabitants. The almost 1,000 statues of Easter Island may be the primary reason people take the 5hr flight from Santiago, the mystery surrounding their meaning yet to be revealed, but soon enough, visitors discover that this enigmatic island holds a wealth of incredible surprises.
Things to do on Easter Island – The remote volcanic island hosts a wealth of archaeological sites, as well as perhaps the most beautiful beach in all of Chile! There may just be one beach on Easter Island, but when it’s white coral sand, lined by palm trees and lapped by deep blue (and deeply cold) seas, one is all you’ll ever need to see. The island also boasts wonderful hiking and horseback riding trails, the most rewarding of which lead to elevated viewpoints that offer all-encompassing coastal views that’ll take your breath away.
Santiago – The Capital
If you think Chile is only about natural treasures then you will be more than pleasantly surprised. Aside from quaint countryside villages and towns, Chile also does the ‘big smoke’ enticingly well. Santiago is a seriously beautiful city, it sits in a deeply carved valley and is framed by high Andean peaks, often visible between the city’s high-rise office buildings as they beg for your attention. The city offers an amazing choice of food – perhaps the best in all of South America – and boasts enough museums and shopping to keep you in town for a few days at least. On top of all this, you have a world of activities right at your doorstep. The award-winning vineyards of the Maipo Valley are just south of the city centre, and on either side, you’ll discover some of the best skiing and snowboarding slopes in the whole continent. In summer, these become a maze of exceptional wilderness hiking trails, more in sheer number than one could ever follow in a mere lifetime. So don’t just see Santiago as a springboard to discover Chile’s best highlights: appreciate the fact that you are in one of them. As the country’s cultural capital, this is a city well worth getting to know.
Lesser-known Gems You Need to Know About
Aside from the above five treasures, Chile hides a multitude of hidden secrets.
Chiloé – SOUTH
This hidden archipelago is just a stone-throw away from the Lakes District yet, for some reason, still flies low of the tourist wave. Drenched in centuries of eery history, the remote archipelago still thrives in its beliefs and superstitions, which makes visiting a cultural experience like no other. With plenty of historical and wilderness delights to enjoy, this little island with the huge personality is a must if you’re heading south to the Lakes District. A side-trip from Puerto Montt is very easy, with ferries plying the route from nearby Pargua.
What to do on Chiloé – The UNESCO-listed towns in Chiloé showcase very unique architecture so you’ll undoubtedly spend at least two days visiting the most famous wooden churches and photographing the colourful stilt-homes (palafitos) from every angle. Take a boat trip to outlying islets to spot nesting penguins, passing dolphins and whales, and walks in the Chiloé National Park, comprising dense forests and distinctive coastal sand dunes. Chiloé also boasts a traditional cuisine that is heavy on seafood and shellfish and feasting here is absolutely inevitable.
A side trip to Easter Island is always a good idea – Chilean Proverb (probably)
The Chilean Fjords – SOUTH
The Lakes District’s Puerto Montt, alongside Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, is a springboard for expedition cruises along the Chilean Fjords, inarguably the most spectacular of all Chile’s lesser-visited spots. These are the world’s southernmost glaciated inlets, a maze of deeply carved bays that stretch for more than 1,500km and boast dozens upon dozens of ancient glaciers, so massive and so impressive that you’ll be bowled over, even if you’ve cruised Alaska. Aside from the sheer gargantuan size and beauty of the fjords, this southern Chilean alley of wonders is also home to penguins, elephant seals and migrating whales and seabirds like cormorants. The overwhelming majority of the fjords are inaccessible to all but ship cruise passengers, further adding to the immersive, nature-filled experience.
What to do in the Chilean Fjords – Board a small expedition ship and you’ll do these fjords justice, with daily excursions including kayaking, Zodiac outings and on-land hiking. These are bonafide adventure trips, much like those you can enjoy in Antarctica and the Arctic so ideal for anyone after the unique and lesser-travelled path.
See our Fjords of Tierra del Fuego expedition
With its overwhelming abundance of dramatic and even extreme wilderness, Chile really is a delectable bite of Mother Nature’s best pie. Yet it’s the country’s top-notch infrastructure that makes travel here just so easy: yes, Chile is long BUT traversing regions and exploring the country from north to south is easy and offers a varied feast of visual delights, alongside outstanding culinary and cultural discoveries.
Food of Chile
While some travel destinations offer awesome attractions but mediocre cuisine, Chile is a fantastic ‘all-rounder’, where gastronomic indulgences are served up even in the most back of beyond nooks. Just a taste of Chile is enough to convince you that this is one of the best culinary destinations in all South America. From avocado-filled everything to crispy empanadas with a rainbow of fillings, addictive corn cake (pastel de choclo), alfajores smothered in dulce de leche and the kind of seafood chowders (caldillo de congrio) that can make grown men weak at the knees.
Find out more about Chile’s amazing food scene.
Often described as the most modernised country in Latin America, Chile is not without its cultural appeal. From the modern vibrancy of Santiago to the rich cultural history of Patagonia, Chile is a diverse and rewarding destination for immersive cultural experiences. The country has a long indigenous history dating back thousands of years. And 19th-century European immigration, followed by Chinese, Middle Eastern and Peruvian immigrants, have all left their mark. Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas have heavy German influences whereas northern Chile and Easter Island have a strong indigenous heritage.
Head on down to Pucon and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Mapuche land. This region is home to the largest indigenous population in the country, where Mapuche people still live in traditional straw huts the way they have done for centuries. Workshops are set up to encourage and safeguard Mapuche traditional weaving, and a few are even open to the public.
Chile is one of the best unplugged destinations in South America
I’ve never met anyone who spent considerable time in the Atacama Desert and didn’t end up longing for it ever after. There’s something about this incredible place that steals not just your heart but also your soul and holds them hostage forever. Unplugging from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life, and spending endless nights stargazing in the Atacama Desert is the kind of therapy everyone should indulge in, at least once in life. The beauty of Chile? Unplugged options are copious. From the Atacama in the north to the southernmost corners of Patagonia and the glorious Torres Del Paine National Park. Even small and remote towns like Pucon, in the superb Lakes District, can gift you that ‘million miles from nowhere’ feeling. Wild, uncluttered and uncrowded, Chile’s best unplugged corners may just be what your soul craves most.
Best Time to Visit Chile
This great all-rounder is a true year-round destination unless there is a specific activity you wish to enjoy, in a particular destination. Even Patagonia, which is traditionally best visited between September and April (hiking season) offers amazing winter-time delights, the main reason a few stunning lodges do stay open, all year long. Generally speaking, however, you can consider the Atacama Desert quite ideal at any time of year, the Central Valleys in Spring and Autumn (the colours are sensational) and Patagonia, as stated, mostly in the southern summer, when the climate is ideal for long days spent outdoors.
Travel through Chile is safe and hassle-free
Although Chile’s recent protests have been in the media, the country remains a safe place for travellers. Understandably, protests may make potential first-time travellers wary of planning a trip. Generally, the most trouble you’ll ever find as a tourist (in times of unrest) is a disruption to transport, which means you may need to account for more travel time than usual (to reach the airport, for example).
Travel through Chile is easy, safe and hassle-free. Like a little pocket of Europe in a sometimes chaotic continent, Chile is ideal if you’re short on time and high on expectations. You can zoom from one corner of the country to another with ease and the only ‘adventures’ are the ones in which you choose to participate!
Best Way to Reach Chile from Australia & New Zealand
Santiago is the main South American entry point from our neck of the woods which makes a tour of Chile even more phenomenal. Less travelling and more enjoying being a priority for anyone on a tight vacation schedule. You’ll find plenty of Things to Do in Santiago before you move on, so do give this underrated capital at least three days.
From Australia, Chile is now more accessible than ever thanks to increased air capacity and LATAM launching direct flights from Melbourne to Santiago last year. Two top-ranked airlines (LATAM and Qantas) now provide regularly scheduled services to Santiago.
LATAM Airlines offers direct DAILY flights from to Santiago from New Zealand – 11 hours from the time you take off in Auckland and you’ll be landing in Chile’s exciting capital. This is Latin America’s largest airline, with connections to just about every corner of the continent.
We can plan a bespoke itinerary that’ll turn just your run-of-the-mill holiday in Chile into a personalised journey that reflects your travel style best. See all our Chile Tour itineraries and contact us to know more.
Here’s some more Chile reading you may find useful: