Welcome to the longest country in the world. Blocked in the east by the towering Andes and in the west by the Pacific Ocean, Chile has incredibly diverse landscapes and lots of historic cities. On this basis, here are the best places to visit in Chile.
Welcome to Chile: the Longest Country in the World
For at least 5,000 years, indigenous tribes inhabited the area of modern-day Chile. The Mapuche were the largest tribe, and they survived for millennia with fishing, hunting, gathering, and farming.
Today, the country stretches from Arica on the Peruvian border to the southernmost tip of Patagonia, forming a landmass of over 4,200km (~2,610 miles). As such, Chile is officially the longest country in the world.
The Spanish Conquest began in 1537 when Diego de Almagro set foot into modern-day Chile. The Europeans established several colonies until the Chilean War of Independence (1810-1818).
After Chile’s independence, the country steadily developed thanks to agriculture, mining, and European immigration. In the 20th century, Chile became the world’s largest copper producer, a rank it still holds today.
Between 1973 and 1990, Chile suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and many wounds of this period remain unhealed.
After 1990, Chile witnessed an economic boom, and in the 21st century, it’s the wealthiest country in South America in terms of GDP per capita.
When it comes to your Chile itinerary, natural beauty is abundant, and you’ll find many different climates. Thanks to its length, Chile offers every type of landscape, hence why it’s one of my favorite countries in the world.
Based on multiple trips, here are my top places to visit in Chile – ordered from north to south.
The Best Places to Visit in Chile
Chile might seem small on a map due to its narrow shape, but it’s actually a massive country. One trip won’t suffice to see much of Chile, but a two to three week-itinerary will give you a taste of this fascinating country.
The following are the 20 best places to visit in Chile – enumerated from north to south.
Arica is Chile’s northernmost city and used to be part of Peru. The Chileans won the city in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), and its status remained disputed until 1929.
The town is known as Chile’s “city of eternal spring” thanks to its pleasant climate all year long. Better still, Arica has a picturesque core with a colonial cathedral and a customs building designed by Gustave Eifel.
The 150k-inhabitants city sits in the driest region in the world, the Atacama Desert. As such, it almost never rains. Arica also has a few beaches, and it’s an excellent base for day trips to the nearby Lauca National Park and Inca settlements.
Atacama Beaches – Iquique
Iquique is one of the primary ports in northern Chile. It’s also close to many beaches and other natural sights.
The dunes overlooking the city provide excellent sandboarding opportunities, and the area is also a popular spot for paragliding and skydiving.
Many Chileans from the south and the center spend their winters in this area, enjoying the warm year-round climate.
Atacama Desert – San Pedro de Atacama, The Valley of the Moon & Calama
San Pedro de Atacama sits on an oasis inside the arid Puna de Atacama highlands.
You’ll find one of Chile’s best archaeological museums here, the R. P. Gustavo Le Paige Museum. The institution hosts an extensive collection of artifacts from the region.
If you are interested in native culture, this is the place to go. San Pedro de Atacama is also an excellent base to explore the various ruins and desert landscapes nearby.
In addition to that, San Pedro is the best place to start a day trip to the Valley of the Moon, one of the Atacama Desert’s most unique natural sights.
Located around eight km from San Pedro, the Valle de la Luna has otherworldly sand and stone formations.
Finally, for people who don’t like rain, Calama is the place to go. With an average yearly precipitation of just 5 mm (0.2in), the 140k-inhabitants-city is one of the driest inhabited places on the planet.
The surroundings of Calama are jaw-dropping, with breathtaking desert landscapes – and little to no life at all.
On the border with Bolivia lies the staggering Laguna Miscanti. The unique feat of nature features a rare lake between the monotonous yet mesmerizing desert landscapes.
Aside from the lagoon itself, the flamingos and guanaco llamas populating the area offer a stunning natural spectacle.
Pro-tip for the Atacama Desert: You can combine all the activities mentioned in 3 & 4 by staying in San Pedro de Atacama and going on day trips.
La Serena is a 200k-inhabitants coastal city with a charming colonial core.
The protected buildings offer a pleasant contrast to the modern high-rises that characterize most larger Chilean cities.
Located in Chile’s northernmost wine region, the town also has a municipal beach.
Finally, La Serena is a highly authentic spot. As such, you won’t see many foreigners as tourism caters more to local holidaymakers.
One of the Largest Swimming Pools in the World – San Alfonso del Mar
The resort of San Alfonso del Mar boasts the formerly largest swimming pool in the world.
The pool has an area of 190 acres and is filled with over 250 million liters of water. If you’re into Guinness World Record locations, this is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Chile.
Situated 100km west of Santiago, San Alfonso del Mar is the ideal destination in summer and a perfect retreat for a romantic weekend on the Pacific Coast, with a completely outrageous pool.
Chile has several modern ski resorts in the Andes. Be aware that most of them cater to an upscale crowd.
You’ll find some of the best places to visit in Chile for skiers close to the capital of Santiago. These include El Colorado and Portillo. Both offer excellent slopes, and Portillo claims the title of “best ski resort in Chile,” according to Powderhounds.
Valparaíso & Viña del Mar
The colorful town of Valparaíso is famous for its colonial houses and its high density of street art.
The old port town is Chile’s second-largest city and home to the Chilean Congress.
Valpo (as Chileans call it) also has the highest number of funiculars in the world (26). Some of them only decorate the cityscape, while others are vital modes of transport. Aside from that, the hilltop observatories offer stunning views over the Pacific Ocean.
Viña del Mar is Chile’s most sought-after beach resort, thanks to its numerous luxury hotels and condominiums. Aside from beaches, Viña del Mar also boats a small colonial castle.
Santiago is Chile’s vibrant and multifaceted capital. Home to over 7 million people, Santiago offers a plethora of cultural institutions and fantastic food and nightlife options.
The metropolis is also home to Chile’s busiest airport. As such, it’s the primary hub of the country. Santiago moreover boasts stunning modern architecture in addition to its colonial core.
Cajón del Maipo
The Cajón del Maipo is a majestic natural sight situated only a short drive away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city.
The site features shimmering lakes nestled between striking mountains. Among the best places to visit in Chile, it provides a relaxing escape from the concrete jungle of Santiago.
The Highest Mountain in the Americas – Aconcagua with a Trip to Mendoza, Argentina
Cerro Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas. With its height of 6,960m (22,837ft), it’s also the tallest peak outside of Asia.
The mountain itself stands in Argentina, but only 15km from the Chilean border. As such, you can explore Aconcagua on your Chile itinerary.
The first step is to hop on a bus from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina. The journey takes around 8 hours, depending on the weather conditions. It isn’t that far, but the route through the Andes slows it down. The easier but more expensive option is to take a plane.
Several treks are available for different levels of mountaineering skills.
Aconcagua is, however, nothing for amateurs. Most tours recommend having summited at least one similar mountain before. The base treks offer less challenging expeditions.
Chillán & Termas de Chillán
The city of Chillán is the hub of the Bío Bío region and one of the country’s agricultural hotspots.
The Mediterranean climate makes it a pleasant place to visit, and the city is also home to a large Cathedral and a well-known open-air market.
About 1h away is the ski resort of Termas de Chillán. You’ll find Chile’s best thermal baths as well as top-notch slopes here.
The ski town is home to three hotels, offering ideal retreats for skiing and relaxing in the hot springs.
Concepción is Chile’s third-largest city and home to several of the country’s best-ranked universities.
In 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Concepción. Many buildings didn’t survive, but the city has nowadays recovered. As such, it’s reasserting itself as the cultural and academic center of the region.
Concepción is today Chile’s second commercial hub thanks to its markets where you can savor the best Chilean fish and ceviche.
Conguillío National Park
Conguillío is one of the country’s most underrated national parks.
Located in the Araucanía region (also known as region IX), the park is home to Llaima Volcano, several lakes, and mountains.
The park is an adventurer’s heaven and an excellent place to immerse yourself in nature. The nearest larger city is Curacautín, where you can base yourself to explore the surrounding wilderness.
Chilean Lake District (Region de Los Lagos)
The Chilean Lake District (Region de Los Lagos) is one of South America’s lesser-visited natural wonders.
The lakes sit in the Andean foothills and offer excellent canoeing, sailing, and other outdoor activities. The area is also known as the Seven Lakes (although there are more).
The most beautiful towns in the area are Pucón, Puerto Varas, and Puerto Montt. All offer charming lakeside walks and breathtaking views. If you’re looking for cities in Chile to visit, these three are undoubtedly worth it.
Among the best places to go in Chile is also the island of Chiloé. Known as the “original home of the potato” (a title disputed with Peru), it’s famous for its houses built on wooden pontoons on the water.
Calbuco & Osorno Volcanoes
Out of Chile’s 500+ active volcanoes, four of the largest are in the Lake District.
The most impressive volcanoes in the area are Calbuco and Osorno, the “Fuji of South America.”
The volcanic background makes this one of the most beautiful places in Chile and a must on your itinerary.
Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine & Other Locations in Patagonia
The small city of Puerto Natales is the main gateway to the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park.
Chileans call this park “la Octava Maravilla del Mundo” (the 8th wonder of the world), and it’s one of the most popular places to go in Chile for nature enthusiasts. The park offers an abundance of mountains, lakes, deserts, and wildlife. As such, you can easily spend a few days in it.
In short, it’s one of the must-see places in Chile if you make your way down south.
Punta Arenas – Estrecho Magallanes (Strait of Magellan)
Legendary explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernando Magallanes) circumnavigated the globe and discovered the straight that leads through southern Patagonia.
The strait today bears his name, and the settlers built the city of Punta Arenas on its shores.
Punta Arenas was founded in 1848 as a settlement to send convicts away but has since evolved into a trade hub in southern Patagonia. Most of the city’s residents are of European descent due to immigration and displacement.
History aside, Punta Arenas offers several museums and a variety of nature-related activities.
In this context, the Reserva Forestal de Magallanes has some stunning hiking routes overlooking the city and the Magellan Strait.
Among the best cities to visit in Chile, Punta Arenas is a suitable base to explore Patagonia.
Tierra del Fuego
When you leave the southernmost tip of South America to venture into even more southern territories, you reach the Land of Fire.
Divided between Chile and Argentina, about 500 kilometers separate Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica.
You can visit the island on a day trip, or you can overnight in one of the small towns in the Land of Fire.
On the Chilean side, Porvenir and Puerto Williams are the island’s primary settlements and offer a small number of accommodation options.
The Argentinian side is home to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
Pro-tip for Patagonia: you can combine 17, 18, and 19 by staying in Punta Arenas. From here, you can go on day trips to Torres del Paine (about three hours to the north by van/car) and Tierra del Fuego (about two hours by boat through the Magellan Strait).
All three are worth more than a day trip. However, if you only have a few days in Patagonia, it’s best to use Punta Arenas as a base. There are many tour operators in the city center or online.
If you only want to see Torres del Paine (my favorite national park in all of South America), stay in Puerto Natales.
Isla de Pascua (Easter Island)
Easter Island isn’t located south of Tierra del Fuego but in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The Isla de Pascua sits over 3,000km west of mainland Chile. It’s so far away from anything that it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
The island is famous for the stunning Moai statues built by the natives.
Fun fact, the statues are the reason for the island’s lack of trees. The indigenous islanders cut down most of the trees to build sleds. They then used these sleds to transport the rocks for the statues.
You can reach Easter Island by plane from Santiago. Due to the island’s remote location, airfares run at steep prices, and in truth, there isn’t too much to see on the Isla de Pascua.
Best Places to Visit in Chile: Know Before You Go
Chile is a Spanish-speaking country, and English levels are low. As such, it’s highly recommendable to learn some basic Spanish before embarking on your Chile itinerary. Chilean Spanish is quite unique compared to other countries in South America, so be prepared.
Safety in Chile
Chile is one of the safest countries in South America, but it’s still South America.
Always guard your belonging and be aware of your surroundings.
Aside from that, don’t wander into the bad barrios of Santiago and Valparaíso. In short, common sense should largely suffice to stay safe in Chile.
In 2019, there were lots of demonstrations, widespread looting, and also small-scale violence. Most of the protests have since calmed down, but keep an eye out for them.
Prices and Infrastructure
Chile is more expensive than all of its neighbors. The prices are only comparable to Uruguay. As such, an ultra-low backpacker budget might not cut it, so rethink that 50 USD per day threshold.
Chile has 17 commercial airports and a highly developed road network.
Latam is the largest airline, and Sky Airlines is the low-cost carrier.
Buses go anywhere at any time. Better still, the first-class services offer some of the most comfortable bus journeys in South America. Turbus and Pullman are the most popular companies.
The Best Time to go to Chile
Chile has many different climates, but the high season is between November and February. These months are best for Patagonia as the winter months are rainy. In that same vein, you’ll have sunny weather in Santiago and the beach towns during these months.
Ideas for Your Chile Itinerary
If you have two weeks or less in Chile, it’s best to focus on the North or the South because of the distances.
Two-Week Itinerary Focusing on the South
- Day 1-3: Santiago
- Day 4-5: Valparaíso
- Day 6: Viña del Mar
- Day 7: Flight to Puerto Montt, Puerto Montt
- Day 8-10: Lake District
- Day 11: Flight to Punta Arenas, Punta Arenas
- Day 12-13: Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales
- Day 14: Flight back to Santiago
This first idea focuses on the southern part and its otherworldly lakes, glaciers, and mountains. If you’re more into deserts and hot weather, consider the second Chile itinerary.
Two-Week Itinerary Focusing on the North
- Day 1-3: Santiago
- Day 4-5: Viña del mar and Valparaíso
- Day 6-7: La Serena
- Day 8-11: San Pedro de Atacama with day trips
- Day 12-13: Iquique or Arica
- Day 14: Flight back to Santiago