Chile may be the world’s narrowest country, but it still packs quite a punch. The country has something for everyone, and as a bonus, it’s one of the safest places in South America. It’s easy to get around via internal flights and public transportation, and Chileans are warm and welcoming people. In this guide, we’ll give you a small taste of everything you can expect from your visit, as well as some practical tips for planning your trip.
Also See Our Chile Travel Guides (Listed A-Z) – Each guide will open in a new window
Iquique | Pucón | Puerto Natales | San Pedro de Atacama | Santiago | Valparaíso
INTRODUCTION | Backpacking Chile
- Currency: Chilean peso
- Capital city: Santiago de Chile
- Population: 19 million
- Main religion: Roman Catholicism
- Main language: Spanish (99.5% of population)
- Telephone code: +56
- Time: CLT (Chilean Standard Time), UTC/GMT -4
- Emergency numbers:
- Local police: 133
- Fire: 132
- Ambulance: 131
You’ll love Chile if…
- You love poetry, literature, and culture. Chile is often called “el país de los poetas” (the “country of poets”) for its extraordinary contributions to world literature. Two Nobel Prize in Literature winners hail from Chile: author Gabriela Mistral and poet Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda’s three homes in Chile are open to the public and are absolutely worth a visit.
- You enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations. The Chilean side of the Patagonia region is more remote than the Argentine side, with less tourist infrastructure and more untouched wilderness. Similarly, the Atacama Desert is one of the best places to stargaze in the world due to its low light pollution and ultra-dry air. Especially in shoulder season, you’ll truly get an unspoiled experience.
- You’re a wine lover. Chile is one of the world’s top wine exporters, and many of its famed vineyards are open for tours and tastings, like regional heavyweight Concha y Toro near Santiago. If hard alcohol is more to your taste, try pisco – a fermented grape spirit also made at the vineyards. It’s up for debate whether pisco originated in Perú or Chile, but Chileans are passionate that it’s originally Chilean! If you visit during autumn, don’t miss the vendimia festivals at harvest-time, where you can stomp grapes yourself.
- You adore adventure travel in diverse landscapes. Chile has all sorts of trekking, hiking, and extreme sports opportunities. Its long and narrow shape means that you get a lot of bang for your buck here: fjords, volcanoes, and glaciers to name a few. Enjoy whitewater rafting, parasailing, surfing, bouldering, and more to satisfy your hunger for adventure.
- You’re a sucker for mysterious island destinations. From Easter Island and Chiloé Island to unusual attractions buried deep in the Andes, Chile has many mythical and mysterious options that aren’t as well-known to tourists but are still accessible and beguiling.
Related: Breathtaking South American island escapes.
WHEN TO GO | The best time to visit Chile
Due to its long and narrow shape, Chile sees varied weather patterns and seasons. The first thing to remember is that (like much of South America) Chile has opposite seasons to North America and Europe, so summer runs from December to March or so, and winter from June to September. Overall, there is fun to be had in Chile year-round.
When to travel depends on a variety of factors: your availability, your budget, your acceptance or aversion to crowds, and especially what you’d like to do while you’re there.
Here are a few examples:
- If you’re seeking outdoor adventures, like hiking: Many are possible year-round, but ideally, you should visit from November to February
- If you’re seeking snow adventures, like skiing: June to August
- If you’re seeking to avoid crowds in hotspots like Torres del Paine: shoulder season (September and October, March and April)
- If you’re seeking to stargaze in the Atacama Desert: December to February
- If you’re seeking city breaks in Santiago, Valparaiso, or other cities: Year-round
- If you’re seeking to relax at wineries or in the Lake District: Year-round
A special note on the Patagonia region: Torres del Paine National Park is usually considered the number one thing to do in Chile. This goes without saying because it’s a spectacular place! However, the Chilean side of Patagonia is quite different from neighboring Argentina’s portion.
While Argentina has capitalized on hotspots like the breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier and made them accessible and easy to reach year-round, Chile has left much of the region more untouched. There are pros and cons to both strategies for sure, but it’s worth noting that if you’re dying to visit Torres del Paine, you should do it in the summer or shoulder months.
The weather is extremely volatile in this part of the world, and while the less-developed tourism infrastructure highlights the gorgeousness of the unspoiled wilderness, it also makes it much more remote and potentially dangerous as well. Many tours do not operate during winter, and trails and roads are often closed.
Also read: 3 Epic Patagonia Itineraries.
Despite its name, the Atacama Desert has pretty mild, stable temperatures year-round, usually staying somewhere in the 20s Celsius (60s-70s Fahrenheit.) While summer is the best time for stargazing, winter is also a great time to visit. Not only a much less popular time for tourists, it never really gets too cold – there’s a bit of wind chill at night, but it’s doable – and all the main activities like Moon Valley are still open for daily tours. If you layer up, winter is a gorgeous time to visit the Atacama.
Chile’s fantastic wineries are also open for tours and tastings year-round, but if you’re a true wine enthusiast, consider visiting in the autumn (March to May.) This is harvest season, with festivals, tastings, and tours against the spectacular backdrop of central Chile’s fall foliage.
There is a variety of “fiestas de vendimia,” or grape-harvest festivals hosted by different municipalities to bless the harvest and welcome spring. As mentioned above, one of the most fun activities is the ability to stomp on the grapes! If you can’t visit in autumn, never fear – you can absolutely book tours whenever you’d like, especially for the larger wineries like Concha y Toro.
VISAS | Do I need a visa for Chile?
Whether or not you need a visa to visit Chile totally depends on your nationality. About 90 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the EU, and others, are exempt from applying for a visa ahead of their visit.
Instead, they are eligible for a 90-day tourist card, a white piece of cardstock paper that is issued upon arrival. Be sure to keep this on your person at all times! It’s common to be asked to show it to check-in at hostels or hotels, and border authorities will ask for it back when you leave.
Citizens of nearby countries (such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay) may enter Chile with their official government ID, no passport needed.
Other nationalities, including Australia, must apply for an e-visa ahead of time, stating whether they need single-entry or multiple-entry. Note that you will need to send your physical passport to the Chilean embassy in your country to receive the official Chilean visa sticker on the inside.
It is recommended that you start this process 1-2 months ahead of your trip to ensure that you have enough time. Note how many days you are granted, 90 days is the default length, but sometimes 30 or 60 days are granted instead.
If you are eligible for the 90-day tourist card, you can pay to extend your visit by another 90 days at the Chilean Immigration Office. You can also apply for a 90-day extension on your e-visa (if you need to secure one to visit Chile.) You can only apply for an extension once.
Border runs are a common way to start over your 90 days in Chile if you are eligible for the visa-exempt tourist card. Simply travel to a neighboring country, stay a few days, and then come back! Theoretically, you can do this multiple times.
Penalty for overstaying your visa in Chile
If the authorities find out that you have overstayed your visa, at minimum, you will need to pay a fine. In some cases, authorities may also confiscate your passport. You will not be allowed to leave the country until you have paid the fine. Overstaying your visa is not a wise idea!
Simply follow the steps for a visa extension or border run above to avoid this, and keep track of how many days you have left on your visa to make sure your return travel falls within the right window.
HEALTH | Vaccines and Malaria Tablets for Chile
Do I need vaccines to travel to Chile?
You should keep up-to-date on all your routine vaccinations, like diphtheria, tetanus, MMR, etc. but there aren’t necessarily any vaccinations you need to travel to Chile. If you are at risk for hepatitis or rabies, you may want to consider getting vaccinated against those, but this is not necessary for most people.
Do I need malaria tablets for Chile?
Malaria is not normally present in Chile.
The links to Amazon and other online shops on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South America Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases. If you purchase after clicking on one of our links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Are there other risk factors to consider for Chile?
Dengue fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, is unusual but still possible, especially in densely-populated urban areas. Dengue can cause severe fevers, rashes, and body aches, and it can take quite some time to feel better after contracting it.
The best way to avoid contracting dengue is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes if you can. Wear bug spray, consider long-sleeved shirts, or perhaps even bring along some mosquito netting.
Another risk factor to consider in Chile that you may not have thought of is the altitude. There are many areas in Chile that are classified as high-altitude or very high-altitude, most notably the Atacama Desert, which reaches almost 6000 meters in altitude at its highest places.
Take a lot of precaution here. Rest and acclimate before attempting any hikes or strenuous activities, and take it easy while you adjust. Altitude sickness is no joke, and can be life-threatening. Minor symptoms include dizziness and nausea, but pulmonary edemas and heart failure are counted among its severe symptoms.
Ultimately, even mild altitude sickness can really ruin your trip, so just be sure to rest up and adjust before you head off on your outdoor adventures.
Related: Do I need to take altitude sickness medication in South America?
SAFETY | Is Chile Safe?
Chile is generally a safe place for travelers, and is actually considered among the safest countries in South America (often tied with Uruguay for first place.) While typical crimes of convenience like luggage theft, petty crime, and pickpocketing certainly do still happen, being aware of your surroundings should largely mitigate this.
Like in many other places, avoid leaving your drink unattended at a bar or wandering around too much by yourself at night or in unfamiliar places. Despite this, Chile is overall a great place for travelers, including solo and female travelers.
It is worth being extra-vigilant in the bigger cities like Santiago and especially Valparaiso. Consider taking public transportation or ride-shares, avoid empty parks or streets, and don’t flash valuables or leave belongings unattended. Valparaíso especially has a reputation for having some rough neighborhoods, so consider sticking to the tourist centers there.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Santiago and other metropolitan areas have been meeting points for large protests and demonstrations in recent years. As a visitor, you are strongly dissuaded from joining protests, filming them, or getting involved in any way. If you get caught up in a protest by accident, try to exit as soon as you can to a side street. The area around Palacio de La Moneda, where the Chilean presidency and cabinet are housed, is often a site of social unrest.
Unlike much of the rest of South America, the tap water in Chile is generally safe to drink, brush your teeth with, and cook with. Chilean cuisine is hearty and delicious, and worth sampling during your visit. There isn’t anything, in particular, to be cautious of, though as always, be sure to wash fresh fruits and veggies before consuming them.
Due to its geographic location, Chile is at risk for a few natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, and wildfires. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with emergency exits and evacuation plans and listen to local authority advice for disaster preparedness. Chilean roads, especially the famed Pan-American Highway, are in good shape and easy to drive on. Speed limits are often enforced, and there tends to be less defensive driving than in other countries in the region.
TRAVEL INSURANCE | Travel insurance for Chile
It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re covered by travel insurance. It is worth its weight in gold if you’re injured while hiking, get sick, and need to visit a clinic or hospital, or even just as a precaution.
Our Facebook Group members recommend the following three companies:
1) SafetyWing – Designed for long-term travelers with flexible subscription policies (think Netflix).
2) World Nomads – Popular with adventurous travelers thanks to a range of activity add-ons.
3) True Traveller – Options to customize your policy so you only pay for the cover you actually need (cheaper).
Top Travel Insurance Tip: Even though it’s boring, make sure you read the SMALL PRINT!
WHAT TO PACK | What should I pack for a trip to Chile?
Chile’s geography means that there can be a lot of variation in the weather, even within the same hour or day. The best advice is to layer up! Bring several light, breathable layers that you can take on or off as needed, and be sure to include a waterproof one.
Remember that UV rays reflect a lot on water, so it’s good to wear sunglasses on any glacier treks. If you’re hiking or trekking, good shoes with strong tread and ankle support is a must, and be sure to pack your collapsible water bottle.
Note that, as in much of the rest of South America, people tend to dress fairly nicely in the cities and urban areas. You’ll probably stick out if you’re wearing hiking clothes in Santiago or chunky hiking boots in Valparaíso, so make sure to bring some nicer clothes with you for your city breaks. Jeans, boots or fashion sneakers, and casual shirts and blouses are totally fine.
FLIGHTS | Airports and airlines in Chile
Flying to Chile
A perk of Chile is that major airline LATAM is based in Santiago, and the city serves as a hub for that airline in the region. LATAM often has budget flights, and budget airlines JetSmart and SKY Airlines also operate widely in the country.
Most people fly into Santiago’s large Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, but there are also airports in Antofagasta, Iquique, Puerto Montt, Calama, and Patagonia. Most international flights likely arrive to and leave from Santiago.
Flying within Chile
Chile is well-serviced by air, and domestic flights are quite reasonably priced. If you’re seeking to visit the Atacama Desert, you can fly into Calama.
The Lake District’s airport is in Puerto Montt, and the gateway to the Chilean Patagonia, the Strait of Magellan, and Antarctica are in Punta Arenas.
These are all serviced regularly by flights, but it can be a bit more challenging and expensive to fly to Punta Arenas during the winter.
LANGUAGE | Spanish Tips
The primary language in Chile, spoken by 99.5% of the population, is Spanish. While some people (especially in the bigger cities and tourist areas) will speak varying degrees of English, it’s always nice to make an effort to learn a few Spanish phrases, like hello, thank you, etc.
The Chilean accent, like the Argentine one, is quite strong. It is definitely considered a challenging accent to understand, even for some native Spanish speakers! Chilean Spanish tends to “aspirate” (almost drop off) the “s” sound at the end of words, and there are a variety of chilenismos or regional slang words, that you may not have heard before.
One really common example is saying “¿Cachai?” To mean “Do you understand?” when normally someone may say “¿Entiendes?” Chilean Spanish is unique and wonderful, and you’ll surely enjoy hearing the different words and phrases.
COMMUNICATION | Phone and Internet in Chile
It’s really easy to get a SIM card in ChiIe. They are largely available in supermarkets, pharmacies, and airports from providers Entel, Movistar, Claro, and WOM. You can also find them in storefronts for each provider, and the occasional kiosk. You can just ask for a “chip” or “prepago” and you’ll be all set. Data is inexpensive in Chile, and it’s pretty easy to top up if needed. You can also rent a WiFi hotspot to take with you on your travels if you’d like.
Chile has high broadband and WiFi connectivity in relation to the rest of South America and has the highest ‘computer penetration’ on the continent. Many of the larger cities have WiFi hotspots available in central areas or parks, but this is much less common in more rural places. Many restaurants, bars, and cafés have WiFi available for customers, and airports also have quite good signal.
BUDGET | How much does it cost to backpack Chile?
Chile is not the cheapest country in South America by a long stretch and isn’t typically considered a shoestring destination per se. However, it’s totally possible to travel Chile on a budget with some advance planning.
The best advice is to decide what you’d like to do ahead of time and avoid traveling in peak season if you want to experience the more popular adventure destinations. For activities like trekking Torres del Paine, consider shoulder season. For city breaks, consider off-season travel, as many parts of Chile are easily accessible year-round and the weather is quite mild.
Estimated budget per day: $35-100USD
- Shoestring Backpacker Daily Budget ($): $35-45USD
- Livin’ it Large Backpacker Daily Budget ($$): $50-80USD
- Flashpacker Daily Budget ($$$): $80-110USD
Approximate exchange rate: $1USD = 855CLP
Cost of Accommodation in Chile
Hostels in Chile are on par with other parts of the continent, with dormitory-style hostels and Airbnb rooms starting at about $11USD per night and a private room at a hostel or budget hotel starting at about $30USD. If you’re a camping enthusiast, you can camp in a tent or a refugio (rustic cabin) for quite reasonable rates as well. This can range from $12USD for tent camping to $80USD per night for something a bit more like glamping.
- Hostel (dorm room): $11-22USD per night
- Hostel (private room) or budget hotel room: $30-40USD per night
- Hotel room: $70-170USD per night
- Camping (tent): $12-30USD per night
- Camping (refugio): $20-80USD per night
Cost of Food in Chile
Similarly to lodging, food isn’t super-cheap in Chile like in other destinations, but there are definitely tips and tricks to keeping costs low. As always, grocery shopping beats eating out, and food prices increase pretty sharply in towns adjacent to tourist sites, like San Pedro de Atacama or Punta Arenas.
Take advantage of set lunch menus if you can. They start at around $6USD for a hearty plate of food, though they aren’t always vegetarian-friendly. Chile’s abundant coastline also leads to super-fresh seafood that is cheaper than in other places, so that could be the place to splurge if you’re interested in sampling it.
Cost of Drinks in Chile
You can get a half-liter of domestic beer for less than $1.50USD in Chile, with imported beers or craft beers costing closer to $2USD per pint. A soda will cost about half that, and a fresh cappuccino or similar coffee drink will cost about the same as a beer. Bottled water will also cost less than $1USD per liter.
Cost of Activities in Chile
Up north, you’ll find the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, while the south boasts the majestic Chilean side of the Patagonia region. Kick off a trip to Antarctica from Punta Arenas, or take in South America’s best surfing in Pichilemu or Arica.
Discover culture, museums, street art, and more in cosmopolitan centers like Valparaíso, Santiago, and Viña del Mar, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, journey to South Pacific gem Easter Island for a dose of mystery. Chile’s vineyards and wineries rival neighboring Argentina’s, and if you time your visit for autumn harvest season, you can stomp on grapes yourself!
Here are a few activities you may be interested in, with their associated costs:
- Whale-watching day trip: $200-350USD
- Trekking the W Trek in Torres del Paine: $250-1250USD
- Day hike in Moon Valley, Atacama Desert from San Pedro de Atacama: $25-30USD
- Day trip to Tatio Geyser, Atacama Desert from San Pedro de Atacama: $30-45USD
- Round-trip flight to Easter Island from Santiago: $350-550USD
- Walking tour of Santiago or Valparaíso: Free (tip tours are common!): $15USD
- Winery tour and tasting: Starts at $30USD
- Magdalena Island tour (to see penguins) from Punta Arenas: $50-$130USD
- Tickets to La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago: $8USD
Note that many of Chile’s national and regional parks are free or very inexpensive to enter, with a notable exception being Torres del Paine National Park, which costs about $25USD for non-Chileans.
Related: How much does it cost to backpack South America?
TRANSPORT | Getting around Chile
Chile has several budget airlines if you are planning to travel around the country, including SKY and JetSmart, and LATAM. Traveling by bus is comfortable, safe, and affordable, but remember that Chile is really long and narrow which makes traveling by bus a lengthy prospect!
Chile’s roads are generally safe and easy to navigate, but unless you have a lot of time available, the time it will take you to drive between popular places can be daunting due to the distance between them.
There are many opportunities for easy day trips by bus from Santiago to cities like Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, or outdoor adventures like El Cajón del Maipo or Portillo. A round-trip charter bus ticket to Valparaíso from Santiago can cost as little as $6USD.
Relatedly, in the bigger cities, there is ample public transportation available, from the metro in Santiago to widespread bus and tram connections in other cities and of course, the iconic funicular system in Valparaíso. While it’s safe overall to use public transportation, be very aware of your surroundings to avoid pickpockets, luggage theft, or other crimes of convenience.
WHERE TO GO | Places to visit in Chile
- For trekking enthusiasts: You can’t beat Patagonia! Torres del Paine is on most people’s bucket lists for a reason, with its iconic peaks stretching towards the sky. There are ample opportunities for trekking, not just limited to the famous W Trek. Cerro Castillo is a similarly exhilarating but less-crowded option, or check out the super-challenging Dientes de Navarino trek (but only if you have 10-12 days to complete it!) A few less physically demanding options are Volcán Chaitén, Futaleufú, or Mirador Las Torres, which takes you to the base of Torres del Paine. Be sure to check ahead of time if you need a guide for the trek you want to do, or if it’s possible to do it self-guided.
- For adrenaline junkies: Called the ‘green lung’ of the greater Santiago metropolitan area, the Cajón del Maipo has adventure options for all activity levels and interests. Mountain reserve El Morado Natural Monument and its surroundings have world-class hiking, thermal baths, bouldering, horseback riding, and skiing. Glacial meltwater from the nearby San Francisco glacier leads to Class 3 and 4 rapids seasonally, one of the best opportunities for whitewater rafting in the area.
- For animal lovers: Chile has a wonderful variety of biodiversity, from humpback whales and orcas to adorable Magellanic penguins, and ample opportunities for bird-watching. There are lots of options for day tours to Magdalena Island from Punta Arenas to see the penguins, as well as dolphins or whales (including humpback whales and orcas!) from Arica or La Serena. Bird-watching tours include the opportunities to see Andean condors, tapaculos, and super-rare huet-huets.
- For couples: The Lake District is relaxing, romantic, and filled with cute villages, vineyards, volcanoes, and majestic vistas. It’s easy to DIY a road trip through the Lake District, stopping at wineries and bed-and-breakfasts that suit your fancy, as well as adding in hiking, swimming, or other options if you feel so inclined.
- For street art connoisseurs: Valparaíso or “Valpo” is known the world over for its fabulous graffiti and street art. Street art was initially a form of protest against the repressive Pinochet regime, as individual thought and expression of this nature were not allowed during that time. After the dictatorship fell, it became an official (and encouraged) art form, with works from distinguished muralists and artists all over the city. You can’t go wrong just wandering around, but there are also walking tours available if you want to learn more.
- For surfer spots: Chile is said to have South America’s best surfing due to the active swells coming in from the Pacific Ocean. Surfing is theoretically possible year-round with the exception of the coldest months, July and August, and there are loads of options. Pichilemu and Iquique are two of the most-visited spots, but there is a thriving surf scene in a variety of other places, too, including Arica, Concón, and Matanzas.
- For magical-mystery vibes: Rapa Nui (or Easter Island), located about 3,800 kilometers from mainland Chile, has enchanted and baffled visitors for centuries. Its iconic Moai statues are the subject of much debate, especially regarding how they were built and why. It’s also considered one of the most secluded inhabited islands on Earth, which definitely adds to its allure and mystique. It can be a bit expensive and time-consuming to visit, but the consensus is that it’s super worth it.
- For the more cosmopolitan among us: Chile’s bigger cities like Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso have chic restaurants, amazing museums, beautiful parks, and cultural contributions galore. While Chile’s outdoor adventures beckon strongly, it’s really worth spending a few days in the cities as well.
- For those seeking new frontiers: We’ve all dreamed of visiting Antarctica… The ‘Big Ice’ beckons to intrepid explorers perhaps largely because it was always so hard to explore. Nowadays, it’s a mere 2-hour flight from Punta Arenas, a super cool addition to a Chilean Patagonia visit.
THINGS TO DO | Top 10 things to do in Chile
1. Hike in the Valley of the Moon and stargaze in the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert in the far north of Chile is the driest place on Earth. Its alternating geography, with eerie salt flats, high-altitude peaks, and beguiling rock formations, may be somewhat reminiscent of Mars, but it’s actually quite easy to get there from Santiago: simply fly into its main hub, Calama. No space travel required!
The Atacama’s ultra-dry climate and remote location make it the ideal place for stargazing, (it’s known as one of the best places to see the Milky Way in the world) but also for excellent hiking, biking, and rock-climbing.
Another fun thing you may not expect is that the salt flats are a natural habitat for flamingos, which vary slightly in color due to their diet there. There are loads of day trips available to popular places like Valley of the Moon, El Tatio Geyser, the Altiplanic Lagoon, and beyond. Just be sure you’re acclimated to the altitude before taking on anything too strenuous.
Also read: Breathtaking Hikes in Chile.
2. See the reflections of the San Francisco glacier in the water at the Cajón del Maipo
The ‘green lung’ of greater Santiago, the Cajón del Maipo is an excellent day or multi-day trip for those seeking a break from city life. If you aren’t able to make it to Torres del Paine, there is also a glacier here, called the San Francisco glacier.
The ~7-kilometer hike is fairly moderate, and you’re rewarded with amazing views of the glacier and the rest of the El Morado National Monument. If adventure sports are more your speed, there are ample opportunities for whitewater rafting, bouldering, and horseback riding as well. The reflection of the glacier in the lake is absolutely gorgeous, so plan for a picnic!
3. Visit Torres del Paine National Park and perhaps attempt the W Trek
Both sides of the Patagonia region are absolutely breathtaking – the type of destination that many travelers include among their top life experiences. Torres del Paine, named for its iconic three peaks, is a pristine wilderness location with wheat-colored grasslands, glaciers, crystalline teal waters, and of course, the eponymous mountain peaks.
While the infamous W Trek is only recommended for seasoned hikers, there are a variety of other treks and hikes for all activity levels, and the Mirador Las Torres hike takes you right to the base of the three peaks. Keep an eye out for guanacos, super cute llama-family members, often spotted in the area.
4. Say hello to the cute penguins at Isla Magdalena
Close to Punta Arenas, the entrance to the Chilean Patagonia, you have the opportunity to see some very special little critters, Magellanic penguins. The island is a breeding ground for approximately 120,000 (yes, you read that right) of these penguins, and was made a national monument in 1982 to protect them. There are lots of boat tours and day trips to visit them, an easy add-on to your Patagonia trip.
5. Marvel at the giant stone Moai statues on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island
Rapa Nui (AKA Easter Island) is located about 3,800 kilometers off the coast of Chile, in the South Pacific. While definitely remote, it has fascinated travelers for centuries due to its 900 massive stone statues, called Moai, thought to have been placed there to protect the island’s villagers from threats. The island also has fantastic diving, hiking, and biking opportunities, and less-touristy beaches.
6. Choose one of Pablo Neruda’s beautiful houses to visit
Pablo Neruda, arguably Chile’s most famous native son, had a full and varied life, filled with love, loss, heartbreak, and political intrigue. He channeled his rich inner emotions into his poetry, becoming one of the world’s most beloved poets, even decades after his death.
He left behind his three houses, which are all now open to the public (La Sebastiana in Valparaiso; La Chascona in Santiago; or his favorite, Isla Negra). All three are spectacular – for their whimsical architecture and design choices, but also for the glimpses into Neruda’s daily life.
7. Ride a funicular to admire the street art in Valparaíso
Valparaíso is known the world over for its street art. From scrawled graffiti to amateur art to famed and lauded muralists, there’s a little bit of everything to enjoy here. The different artworks range from funny to sentimental to truly bizarre. There’s no accounting for taste, as they say!
There are ample walking tours available, including the free tip-tours, or you can explore by yourself. The only thing to keep in mind is that Valparaíso has a bit of a reputation as a pickpocket haven. The slow ascent of its funiculars can make you a target, so be sure to leave the valuables at home and stick to the main tourist areas.
8. Sip on a pisco sour or a world-class wine, accompanied by a delicious pastel de choclo, a Chilean specialty
Chile is known the world over for its fabulous wine, produced primarily in its Central Valley. Nowadays, wine production is booming in the Atacama area as well, as its high elevation produces more acidic grapes perfect for drier white wines.
If you’re not a big wine person, pisco, the country’s most famous hard liquor, is delicious in a cocktail or as an aperitif. Chilean cuisine is very hearty, often relying on staples like corn, potatoes, and chicken to form the basis for stews, empanadas, and more.
9. Discover South America’s best surfing on Chile’s beaches in Iquique or Pichilemu
When asked about world-class surfing, Chile may not be the first place to jump to mind, but it should absolutely be on your radar. Its weather conditions and proximity to the Pacific Ocean make surfing doable almost year-round, and the waves and swells are great for novices and seasoned surfers alike.
Iquique and Pichilemu are the most common destinations, but if you’re seeking something a bit more off-the-beaten-path that is still surf-centered, there are all sorts of beaches and day trips that you can try.
10. Climb a volcano or relax waterside in the Lake District
While many (understandably) flock to the northern or southern extremes of the country to adventure in Patagonia or the Atacama, don’t make the mistake of forgetting about the middle of the country!
The Lake District has breathtaking outdoor opportunities, like nature reserves, national parks, and more, as well as a lot of places to relax and unwind in thermal springs and serene bed-and-breakfasts. There are 12 glacial lakes in the region, surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes, truly a sight to behold.
Do you have any more questions about Chile? Contact us by email or ask away in the South America Backpacker Facebook Community!