Delve into the rich cultural heritage of Santiago, cruise the Patagonian Fjords or trek in the spectacular landscapes of the Atacama Desert.
Looking for the very best places to visit in Chile? We’ve got you covered! The most rewarding destinations, the very best things to do and the most off-the-beaten-path highlights no Chile tour should go without – experience the magic of Chile travel and discover why this small and unassuming little nation has been making the biggest waves in the South America travel scene in the last few years.
Here are the very best things to do in Chile:
- Atacama Desert
- Torres del Paine
- Wine regions
- Chilean fjords
- Easter Island
- Best time to go to Chile
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The startling Atacama is the driest desert on earth outside the Polar regions and one of the most ethereal landscapes you’ll ever cast your eyes on. It borders the famous Salt Flats of Bolivia in the north, is framed by high Andean peaks in the east and tumbles into the Pacific in the west. With its crumbling crusty terrain, its undulating sand dunes and dramatic peaks, not to mention geysers, lagoons and bizarre rock formations, the Atacama is one of the most jaw-dropping places on earth, let alone one of the best places to visit in Chile.
One of the most coveted Chile tourist attractions is stargazing in the Atacama with the lack of light pollution making this one of the best spots on the planet for admiring the southern skies. Head here to hike or tour by 4WD or on horseback, and you’ll be bagging one of the most unforgettable Chile travel experiences of all.
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Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is one of the most wildlife-enriched and picturesque nature reserves in the entire continent and is certainly considered the crown jewel of southern Chile. Defined by its towering granite peaks, the very same that lend the park its name, Torres is a hiker’s, wildlife and nature lover’s ultimate playground. When you include Torres del Paine in a Chile tour of Patagonia, you’ll be setting a high bar of expectations, no doubt. An abundance of stunning valleys, glacial lakes, snow-capped peaks and verdant hills makes this a unique trekking destination, whether you wish to tackle the famous multi-day W Walk or just take a drive around the park for a few days, reaching convenient viewpoints and still having plenty of chances to spot unique wildlife. Torres is home to pumas, foxes and large groups of guanacos, as well as an astonishing number of predatory bird species like the iconic Andean Condor.
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As one of the world’s most accomplished and celebrated wine-making nations, Chile delivers on the delicious goods no matter where in the country you travel. In total, the country boasts five distinct wine regions, namely (from north to south): the Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Central Valley and Southern Austral regions. The most famous (and visited) are inarguably the Central Valley Wine Region (given it’s so easily accessible from the capital, Santiago) and the Austral Wine Region (home to unique vineyards in seemingly inhospitable landscapes). What makes Chile unique is that given the country’s topography (narrow but very long) it showcases a dramatic variety of landscapes so, in turn, a staggering variety of wine crops, from Pisco and Muscat in the north to Chardonnay, Syrah, Garnache and Cab Sav in centre and Pinot Noir and Pais in the south. On a culinary tour of Chile which, let’s be honest, is every tour of Chile, you can visit the most famous and lesser-known wineries of the region you’re exploring. Head here between end-Feb and early May and you can also include a few sensational harvest festivals in your Chile tour itinerary.
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Chile’s capital is one of the most underrated cities in all South America – there isn’t just an endless array of things to do in Santiago but its convenient location means it also makes for a fantastic base for adventure-filled Chile tours. Aside from an abundance of historical highlights within the city itself (not to mention outstanding wining and dining) Santiago is also excellent for trekking tours to nearby national parks and visits to the coastal hub of Valparaiso in summer. Visit wineries during harvest in Autumn or hit the world-class slopes in Winter.
The best neighbourhoods to discover in Santiago itself are Bellavista, for its street-art and bohemian vibe (Pablo Neruda’s former home is here), trendy Barrio Italia, the area around the Museo Bellas Artes (for grand architecture and weekend antique markets) and the Centro Historico, the hub of delectable food, cultural experiences aplenty as well as the best museums and most important historical landmarks in town.
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If you’re a cruise fanatic, you will have no-doubt heard about the Chilean Fjords but, in case you haven’t, let us introduce you to one of the country’s most hidden of treasures.
Stretching for an astonishing 1600km along the southwestern coast of Patagonia, the resplendent Chilean Fjords are a gobsmacking force of Mother Nature. Ice-capped inlets, floating icebergs, glacial lakes and waterfalls are backdrops to an amazing array of Patagonian marine life, including penguins, elephant seals, a flurry of sea birds as well as whales in migration. This remote and hard-to-reach treasure is best explored on a small expedition ship, the likes that offers daily Zodiac outings and plenty of on-land hikes.
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The remote Polynesian island of Rapa Nui is one of Chile’s most surprising highlights. Most visitors head here simply to cast their eyes on the iconic monumental statues for which the island is so renowned, never dreaming they’d also be experiencing a unique cultural mix that seamlessly blends ancient Polynesian civilization with a heady influence of Chilean flair, among an arresting volcanic landscape.
Easter Island is so much more than its 1,000 giant Moais: it is dramatic and breathtaking coastlines, it is an infinite maze of hiking trails around extinct volcano craters, thrilling horseback rides and SCUBA dives and it is a one-of-a-kind world of ancient traditions. Ancestrally closer aligned with native New Zealanders than they are to their mainland Chilean counterparts, locals here speak Spanish and all seem to have a secret family recipe for out-of-this-world empanadas. Fascinating, surprising and incredibly rewarding – Chile’s Easter Island is at times one of the last destinations many think of when planning a Chile tour but, for a host of reasons, should really be among the first.
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Much like Easter Island (except it’s incomparably easier to reach once in Chile) Chiloe Island lives in a little world all its own. One of Chilean Patagonia’s remotest wonders, this archipelago of wilderness is dotted with UNESCO-listed villages, revered for their colourful wood-stilted houses dating back almost 500 years. Aside from visiting the picturesque villages of Castro, Ancud and Quemchi, you can take kayaking trips through enchanting flooded forests, visit penguin colonies and be on the lookout for blue whales during the migration season, in the first three months of the year. Quaint, interesting, isolated and endearing – Chiloe is an absolute delight and easy to include in a tour of Chile if you’re planning to visit the southern Lakes District, Torres del Paine and the southern fjords.
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Although Chile tours can be comprehensive and varied, the undeniable fact is that this phenomenal country is primarily suited to outdoor lovers. From hiking to cruising, road-tripping, skiing and horseback riding, this mountainous land is ideal for explorations that go beyond the usual ‘sightseeing’ tours. What we love about Chile is the fact that you can fit a lot of different experiences into the one visit, something that’s a bit difficult to do in much larger countries like Argentina and Brazil. The long but narrow border facilitates continuous journeys that start in the Atacama and weave their way all the way south past Santiago and Torres del Paine. A three-week Chile tour de force can see you stargazing in the north, wine-tasting and discovering Santiago in the centre, hiking in Torres and cruising the south at a very relaxing travel-speed. Given that Santiago is such a convenient entry point into South America from New Zealand (thanks Air New Zealand!) you can split your trip into two sections, with a few thrilling days in the capital to break up the trip.
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Best time to go to Chile
All this geographical diversity also means that the ideal time to visit Chile will highly depend on where you wish to travel and what you wish to do once there. The northern region, around the Atacama Desert, is probably best visited outside of peak summer (and tourist) season, which runs from January to March. Days can get unbearably hot here and although the place never feels ‘overcrowded’ (it’s just too big and undeveloped for that) it’s simply lovely to know you’re skipping the intense heat. The Central Valley region – including Santiago – boasts a rather mild climate yet even though a visit is splendid at any time of year, you may want to aim for the driest months (October to early April) so rains won’t disrupt your travel plans. Don’t forget March is perfect if you want to catch a harvest festival in one of the wine-growing valleys!
As for Patagonia, well, the world is your oyster! Want to hike Torres and cruise the magnificent fjords? Head here during the warmest months (October to March) whilst if you’re up for a starting skiing trip in world-class runs, plan your trip for the middle of the year.
At Viva, we can customise our Chile Tour itineraries to suit your needs and desires and are always more than happy to offer advice on how best to plan your trip.