This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
You’re here because you’re hoping to visit Chile. Fantastic choice! It’s one of my favorite destinations in South America because it literally has everything I love in one place. Think world-renowned hiking like the trails in the famed Torres del Paine National Park, geysers and Mars-like landscapes in the Atacama Desert, bustling and vibrant cities like Santiago and Valparaiso, and not forgetting the delicious wine to be savored in Casablanca Valley!
Planning a trip here can be a little overwhelming, to say the least. You see, Chile is a massive country and there are so many epic places to see that it can be hard to know where to start. Well, that’s where I come in – I’ve spent a lot of time in Chile and could spend all day talking to you about the best spots to see (I’d say there are easily close to 100 cool travel destinations!). But I realize you might not have all day to read about this South American gem, so I’ve narrowed it down to 13 amazing places to see in Chile!
You could spend a couple of months in Chile and not get bored. One day, you might be climbing one of the most active volcanoes in South America (the Villarrica Volcano), the next exploring islands full of adorable penguins, and another kayaking through the very Instagrammable Marble Caves!
All this makes Chile one of the best travel destinations in the world. Now, let’s get started!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite places to visit in Chile are:
- Torres del Paine National Park – to see incredible mountains, lakes, and glaciers! We recommend hiking the entire 8-day O Circuit. You can do all of the planning and hike it independently, or save yourself the work and do this guided hike instead.
- Valparaiso – to see a vibrant, colorful, coastal city that’s full of culture. It’s located just a short drive from Santiago. Plan to stay a night or two, or at the very least book a day trip from Santiago.
- Atacama Desert – experience the unique desert landscape. There is so much to explore here, but to see the most in the least amount of time, book this 8-hour tour that departs from San Pedro de Atacama.
- Where are the best places to visit in Chile?
- Getting around Chile
- When is the best time to visit Chile?
- Thanks for reading!
- Don't get Caught without Travel Insurance!
Where are the best places to visit in Chile?
1. Torres del Paine National Park
Starting this list of the best places to visit in Chile off strong with Torres del Paine National Park. It’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the country if not all of South America! Known the world over for its awe-inspiring mountain scenery, giant bright blue glaciers, and rare and unique wildlife like guanacos (closely related to llamas), Huemul deer, and Magellanic penguins!
The most recognizable attractions in the park are the three massive granite towers from which it takes its name (Torres del Paine translates to blue towers) and the horn-shaped Cuernos del Paine mountain range!
This sub-arctic area is located at the continent’s southern tip, just a travel day or two away from Antarctica. In fact, this part of the world is the closest place to Antarctica! As one of Chile’s biggest and most visited parks, it takes up a whopping amount of space – 540 Central Parks in New York could fit inside! So, I think it’s fair to say that you’ll need at least a few days to see the best of this Chilean gem.
If you’re a self-confessed adventurous traveler (guilty over here!), hiking through Torres del Paine should definitely be added to your bucket list.
Because of its sheer size, the best way to explore Torres del Paine is on a guided tour. These tours take the stress out of your trip, make sure you see the best of the park’s incredibly beautiful natural attractions, and also allow you to learn about the park from an expert local guide.
When it comes to getting the most value for your money, this Torres del Paine day tour is one of the best out there! Because the hike itself is pretty easy, most people can tackle it. The tour is 10 hours long and departs from Puerto Natales (the closest town to the park). If you pick this tour, you’ll get to see some of the park’s top sights, such as Salto Grande, Grey Glacier, and Laguna Amarga. This particular tour will set you back just $93 USD per person and should be booked online in advance!
This 5-day W Trek tour fully immerses you in the iconic W-Trek hiking trail, one of the best hikes in South America. And because it’s an independent tour, you can hike at a pace that suits you. A few hours of hiking each day makes this strenuous hike manageable. Over the 5 days, you will explore epic sights like Nordenskjöld Lake, the French Valley, and the Grey Glacier! What’s good about this particular tour is that you have different accommodation options (camping or a refugio), so you can pick what works best for you and your budget!
The first option is called the W Trek with Refugio rooms. If you pick this option, you’ll be sleeping in a refugio (mountain hostel) at night instead of camping in a tent in Torres del Paine. This is great for anyone wanting a little bit of luxury in the evenings. It costs $1,898 USD per person. Your second (and slightly cheaper) option is the W Trek with tent camping where you’ll sleep out in nature under a blanket of stars. This option will set you back $1,502 USD per person for a two-person tent.
Both of the above are the exact same except for where you’ll sleep at night. So, both tours include the entrance fee for Torres del Paine National Park and a round-trip bus transfer to and from Puerto Natales. Also included is a catamaran transfer across Lake Pehoé and all your meals!
If 5 days doesn’t seem like enough time and you want a more in-depth experience of this world-famous hike, then this O Circuit Tour is 8 days long. Similar to the W Trek above, the O Circuit tour is around 79 miles (127 km) long as it actually includes the W trek and other trails, but with this particular option, you are your own guide. However, handily, when you arrive at camp, your space is prepared and your meals ready! Lodging on this tour is a mix of camping and refugios, for $2,459 USD.
Thankfully, you can still enjoy the park if you’re a non-hiker! Torres del Paine is filled with luxury hotels where you can enjoy breathtaking views, go on a few easy guided hikes, or even go horseback riding. It’s a great alternative to camping, but as you can imagine hotels in Torres del Paine don’t come cheap! For a great hotel with mind-boggling views like Pampa Lodge, you’ll need to fork out around $400 USD per night. Luckily, if you’re on a budget, there are some excellent hostels in the park!
2. Puerto Natales
Moving nicely onto the next awesome place in Chile, Puerto Natales, aka the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park, which I already went into detail about above! We based ourselves in Puerto Natales to explore Torres del Paine, and we’re so glad we did. In my opinion, the tours from here to Torres del Paine are a safe bet because they’re excellently rated and offer the least travel time so you have more time in the park itself.
This full-day tour to Torres del Paine is our top pick if you’re short on time, as it allows you to see the best of Torres del Paine over 11-12 hours. You’ll get to see Laguna Amarga, Lago Sarmiento, Lago Noderhold, and Milodon Cave, as well as a short hike on the famed Grey Glacier. What’s great is it’s a small group tour (max 15 people), and return transfers are included from hotels in Puerto Natales. Prices start from $85 USD, but we’ve often seen sales for better rates when booking on Viator!
But, to me, Puerto Natales is so much more than just a gateway town. In this fascinating port city, you can learn about the Indigenous people of Patagonia in the town’s museum, jump on a boat tour to the two most famous glaciers in Patagonia, and taste some excellent craft beer!
As I said, Puerto Natales is the closest city to Torres del Paine National Park at just an hour’s drive away. So as you can imagine, its popularity has surged in recent times as more and more tourists tick this awe-inspiring national park off their bucket list. Each year, around 200,000 tourists visit Puerto Natales, most of which come during the peak summer season (from December to February).
At this time of year, the national park can be explored unguided thanks to the warmer weather and, thus, safer conditions. Thanks to the remote location of Puerto Natales and its relatively short tourist season, it’s one of the most expensive destinations in Chile, but despite that, I still highly recommend adding it to your Chile itinerary!
Your first stop in Puerto Natales should be the Municipal Historical Museum in the city center, which exhibits artifacts from the region’s Indigenous population. It’s truly amazing to learn how people lived in this harsh region in the past. Entrance to the museum costs only $2 USD, so it’s a very cheap activity that will only take around an hour of your time!
I don’t know about you, but I just love joining a free walking tour on my first day in a new place as it really gives me a feel for the city I’m staying in. Luckily, in Puerto Natales, you can join the Natales A Pie Free Walking tour. It starts at 10 am, lasts around 2 hours, and you must meet your guide at the hard-to-miss Monumento La Mono. From there, you’ll be taken around the city to learn all about its history and visit its top sights, such as Monument al Viento and Plaza de Armas Arturo Prat.
And now for one of the best and most popular things to do from Puerto Natales – a boat cruise to the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers. On this specific tour, you will not only get up close to two of Patagonia’s most iconic glaciers, but you’ll also stop off for a scenic forest hike that will lead you out to the base of the glaciers. Your guide will even prepare whiskey served over glacial ice to warm you up. It’s a full-day tour, so allow between 10 and 11 hours, and prices start from $210 USD, which I think is great value considering it includes tea and coffee onboard, lunch, a knowledgeable local guide, and a glass of whiskey with glacier ice!
If you’re a craft beer lover like me, well, you’ve come to the right place because Puerto Natales is the perfect place to sample Patagonian craft beers. It’s a destination well-known in the craft beer world because the beer here is made using the cleanest water on the planet! Around the city, there are many different places you can try craft beer, but we fell in love with Restaurante el Bote Cerveza Natales for its massive selection of craft beers!
3. Tierra del Fuego Island
You may be familiar with Tierra del Fuego as the land of fire, aka a breathtakingly beautiful province at the Southern tip of South America that belongs to both Chile and Argentina. But, here, we’ll focus on South America’s largest island – Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which interestingly is also divided – Chile owns the western side and Argentina the eastern side.
On the Chilean side, you’ll find the isolated main town of Porvenir, which huddles the Magellan Strait, has numerous king penguin colonies, and scenic coastal views as far as the eye can see. To get to this magical island from the mainland, you’ll need to hop on a 2-hour ferry from Punta Arenas. The journey will likely be a wildlife-filled one as the waters along the Magellan Strait are abundant with whales and dolphins. The ferry docks at Porvenir, and if you have a rental car, you can drive around 1.5 hours to Parque Pinguino Rey (where the king penguins are). Or you can do what I did and go on an organized tour. If you have more time, you can also stay at a hotel on the island!
As you can probably guess, the most popular thing to do on the island is see the king penguin colonies. These magnificent creatures are the second-biggest penguin species in the world (after emperor). On our full-day tour to Tierra del Fuego from Punta Arenas, we got to see dozens of king penguins and watched them from a respectful distance of about 20 meters (65 feet) via binoculars. We highly recommend this tour, which also includes a stop in Porvenir and the fascinating museum there (more on that below!), and the ferry ride over. It costs $157 USD, and be warned, it’s a long day at around 14 hours in total!
As I said, the ferry docks in a town called Porvenir, the capital of the island. And although there isn’t a whole lot to do in Porvenir, I highly advise you to visit the town museum – Museo Provincial de Tierra del Fuego. Here, you can learn about the Indigenous people, the Selk’nam, as well as native wildlife. Not to mention the famed “mummy” – a Selk’nam lady named Kela. Seeing a real mummy, (this one is in a thin glass case) is a rare and memorable experience. Most mummies, like Tutankhamun on display in the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, are protected behind bullet-proof glass in temperature-controlled rooms!
4. Isla Magdelena
Another incredible island off the coast of Punta Arenas is Isla Magdalena, which, similar to Tierra del Fuego Island above, is home to an abundant and famous penguin population. Yep, this small island is home to a whopping 150,000 small Magellanic penguins!
So, I think it’s fair to say if you’re a wildlife lover, or more specifically, a penguin lover, then Isla Magdelena HAS to make your list of must-visit places in Chile!
You can visit Isla Magdelena, which is 22 miles (35 km) off the coast of Punta Arenas, on your own, take the public ferry with TABSA, or join an organized tour. However, the ferry is slow – even though the distance is short, it takes over three hours to get to Isla Magdelena on the ferry from Punta Arenas! And then, once you dock, you only have one hour on the island before you must hop on the return ferry. It’s also not something you can plan on (it wasn’t running at all during the 2022-2023 season).
An organized tour isn’t that much more expensive than the ferry (expect to pay around $130 USD), and tour boats will get you to the island much faster (45 minutes to an hour), giving you way time on this unique island. Having a guide is also a brilliant added bonus, as you can learn about the penguins, the area, and its history!
I recommend booking this particular tour as you visit Isla Magdelena and go to Isla Santa Marta, where you can see cormorants (an aquatic bird) and sea lions too! First off, the boat journey is only 45 minutes long compared to the 3-hour ferry ride, and because the tour is 4-5 hours long, you’ll have sufficient time to spend in the super-cute penguin’s presence. Coffee and tea are also provided free of charge on board, and the guide is very knowledgeable and will point out any wildlife along the way and tell you the island’s history. All this for $130 USD per person is pretty good value if you ask me! I will add that the departure is pretty early – 6:30 am, but that means you’ll beat the crowds!
Related Read: Before you book anything, be sure to read our detailed guide to seeing penguins in Punta Arenas!
5. Marble Caves
And now for a truly unique natural wonder – the Marble Caves in General Carrera Lake in Patagonia. But what are they exactly? Well, the Marble Caves are a series of natural rock formations in a lake that is an amazing blue-green color caused by the reflection of the turquoise lake on the marble walls of the cave! And because they’re in the water, you need a boat or kayak to reach them, Which only adds to their appeal!
They’re a hidden gem as they’re quite difficult to get to, which I’ll go into more detail on below. And honestly, you have to see them for yourself to appreciate their beauty – no photo or poetic description does them justice!
The closest town to these unique caves is Puerto Rio Tranquilo (or just Rio Tranquilo for short), which is a 30-minute boat ride away or a slightly longer kayak ride. And thankfully, there are heaps of tour companies to choose from to get you to the caves. When we last went, there were tons of companies offering boat tours if you head to the shops along the water’s edge. Typically you can buy a ticket for around 10,000 CLP ($10.50 USD).
If you are a true adventurer, you can kayak out to the Marble Caves, which is such a cool experience! The tour companies that take you out on a boat also rent kayaks or some locals run this small group kayaking tour, which will allow you to get very close to the marble caves. For only $74 USD per person, it’s a great price for access to such a unique sight! The tour is 3 hours long and departs from Puerto Río Tranquilo. The waters around the caves are sheltered from the wind by the surrounding mountains, so the paddling is, for the most part, smooth and enjoyable.
Many people traveling from South to North Patagonia will aim to reach the Marble Caves from the popular tourist town of El Chalten in Argentina. You can either make this journey in your own rental car or by public bus with possibly a little bit of hitchhiking through Chile. But this is a long and often tiring process, which involves a 12-hour bus ride from El Chalten to Los Antigos, Argentina, and from there, you’ll need to either hop on a public bus or hitchhike to Chile Chico. And finally, from Chile Chico, it’s a short bus ride along a gravel road into Rio Tranquilo, where the Marble Caves are located.
Alternatively, if you’re already in Chile, you can make your way to the small city of Coyhaique, which is 137 miles (220 km) from the Marble Caves. You can get to Rio Tranquilo from Coyhaique in three different ways. The first and cheapest option is to get a public bus. Daily buses run from Coyhaique to a town called Cochrane, which stops at Puerto Rio Tranquilo. If you’re already traveling around Patagonia in a rental car, this is easy for you – just drive there!
Alternatively, you can take an organized full-day tour from Coyhaique to the Marble Caves. That way, you can enjoy the Marble Caves without worrying about the logistics of getting there! Allow around 12 hours for this particular tour, and what’s handy is that it’s $183 USD all in. It also includes the boat trip out to the caves!
6. Puerto Montt
Another hidden gem spot in Chile that we think should be teeming with tourists is Puerto Montt in the glorious Lakes District. It’s often regarded as the “capital” of Chilean Patagonia. This gorgeous region is home to looming volcanoes and bright blue glacial lakes.
It is also the gateway to the famous Chiloé Archipelago, home to Chiloé Island, the second-largest island in South America!
If you love unique souvenirs, head to Av. Angelmó, known for its varied street stalls selling everything you can imagine (even seafood) but most commonly unusual crafts and other trinkets. But, all the locals will tell you that the best quality souvenirs can be found in the pretty port town of Angelmo, which is 1.8 miles (3 km) along Av. Angelmó from downtown.
One of the most intriguing and important attractions in Puerto Montt is the Monte Verde archaeological site just outside the town. It is here the oldest human remains in the Americas (dating back 33,000 years) were discovered in 1975!
Infrastructure here is minimal, but there are information boards that give a brief explanation of what was discovered here (39 stone objects and 12 small bonfires where the human bones were found), as well as a 200-meter-long trail with information plaques that show where excavations took place. We’ve been told that a museum for the site is in the works!
A bucket-list-worthy experience from Puerto Montt is the ferry journey from the town to Puerto Natales. It is an epic 4-day, 3-night journey through Chile’s most inaccessible fiords. It’s definitely a tour that not many people know about, and should you do it, not only will you experience some of the most breathtaking views in Patagonia, but you’ll earn major kudos points for trying out an experience that only a handful of tourists get to do!
It’s not a luxury cruise – it’s more down-to-earth, is my best way of describing it. But at around $650 USD per person, it makes traveling through one of the most inaccessible parts of the world achievable for most travelers. Navimag is the company that runs the ferry, and cruises run back and forth regularly.
And now moving on to Chile’s largest and capital city – Santiago! And what a place it is! I must admit, it’s one of my favorite cities in South America, and even after a few hours here, you’ll understand why – Santiago is mesmerizing!
Besides the stunning backdrop of the Andes mountains, Santiago is home to one of the biggest shopping malls in South America (the Costanera Center), numerous beautiful and unique neighborhoods, and great nightlife.
As you can guess, because it’s the biggest city in Chile, it’s often the starting or finishing point for most tourists’ Chilean adventure! And even if you have just one day to spend in Santiago, you’re sure to fall in love with the city, provided you do it right (hint: see my must-visit places below!).
Your first stop in Santiago should be Cerro San Cristóbal, a mountain smack dab in the city center. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Santiago for good reason! You can hike to the top of Cerro Cristóbal, but it is steep and not something I recommend if you’re short on time, as it will take over 45 minutes each way. Instead, I recommend hopping on the much faster cable car or funicular. From the top there are awe-inspiring views of Santiago, as well as lots of walking trails and viewpoints to explore, and even adventure parks, swimming pools, cafes, and shops!
Your next stop should be the Central Market (aka Mercado Central) for a lunch you will remember. This huge sense-evoking market on San Pablo sells fresh produce and souvenirs, but it’s best known for its fresh seafood! So, it’s a must if you’re a seafood lover, and it’s a great way to get a sense of the local culture in Santiago! To be honest, I’m not the biggest seafood fan, so if you’re like me, I recommend heading upstairs in the market to one of the small, cheap local restaurants and trying the Chilean favorite dish – Chorrilana (which consists of steak, french fries, sausage, onion, and egg). This dish is seriously massive and will serve two people easily!
And after all that food, you’ll surely be itching to walk it off, and what better way to do that than with a free walking tour, which begins at 10 am or 3 pm daily from the nearby Museo National de Bellas Artes (the National Museum of Fine Arts). The tour lasts between 2.5-3 hours and visits many of Santiago’s historically significant (and beautiful) buildings, including Plaza de Armas, La Moneda, the cultural center, and even the trendy neighborhood of Lastarria!
Lastly, make time to visit the hipster neighborhood of Bellavista, which is very close to Lastarria. This area is the quirky and cool university suburb of Santiago, home to plenty of cute bars and restaurants. This is where I highly recommend having dinner and drinks one evening. Constitucion Street is the most “happening” spot, and the restaurants and bars here have lovely outdoor patios (perfect for people-watching!). And because it’s a student area, the happy hours in the bars here are the cheapest in town!
If you want to take the hassle out of seeing the best sights in Santiago, consider booking an organized full-day tour! This private Santiago city highlights tour lasts 4 hours and includes a stop at almost all of the places I listed above, as well as Cerro Santa Lucia (a picturesque neighborhood with a gorgeous public park). This private tour costs $193 USD.
There is also a hop-on-hop-off tourist bus system in Santiago, which is a great way to see a lot of the city in a short space of time! You can buy the bus pass online in advance! Tickets cost $45 USD.
Related Read: Before traveling to Santiago and elsewhere in Chile, I highly recommend you read our guide to safety in South America so you can thoroughly enjoy your vacation in Chile!
8. Casablanca Valley
And next, I’ve got something for all you wine lovers reading: the Casablanca Valley wine region is one of Chile’s most important and most well-known wine-growing regions, and it attracts wine connoisseurs from across the world who come to taste the excellent crisp white wines grown here. Conveniently, too, it’s only located 45 minutes from Santiago and 20 minutes outside of Valparaiso.
This wine region is here to prove that there’s more to the Chilean wine-growing scene than just the famed red wines grown in the south. Because of the cooler climate and diverse soil here, Casablanca is able to produce some of the best white wines, specifically Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, in South America!
Interestingly, Casablanca is a relatively new wine-growing region, and the first vineyards were planted here in the 1980s. Today, there are about a dozen vineyards open to the public. Our personal favorites are Veramonte and Viña Matetic.
Of course, if you have a rental car and are staying in nearby Santiago or Valparaiso, you can drive here yourself, but then, somebody will need to be the designated driver and thus miss out on sampling some seriously delicious white wines. During our time in Santiago, we joined this small-group tour from Santiago, and we highly recommend it! It’s 10 hours long and has a badge of excellence for a reason – the guide is so knowledgeable and friendly, and you’ll get to visit local wineries, including an underground cellar, tasting along the way. It costs $99 for one wine tasting or $149 USD to taste at each of the three wineries you visit.
Another must-visit city in Chile is the historic city of Valparaíso. Although it’s less well-known than Santiago, it’s still the second-largest city in the country, and part of it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Affectionately known as “Valpo” by the locals, this quirky city is a paradise for art lovers as there’s literally art at every turn (it’s one of the best cities in the world for street art!). When you add in the fact that the restaurants here are excellent and the beaches are stunning, suddenly, adding Valparaíso to your Chilean itinerary becomes a no-brainer!
Valparaiso is located only a 1.5-hour drive from Santiago. So, you can either jump on a bus or drive your rental car there and stay a few days (what we did). Alternatively, you can book this highly-rated day tour from Santiago. The tour includes transport to and from Valparaiso as well as walking tour when you arrive. It’s a small group limited to a maxiumum of 15 people, and only costs $99 USD per person.
If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you’ll know that I love to join a free walking tour on my first day in a new city. And when I visited Valpo, I did just that, and I strongly urge you to do the same. The free walking tours are run by Tours 4 Tips, and yep, they are completely free (but a good tip at the end is definitely appreciated). There are two options for free walking tours in Valparaíso, and which one you pick depends on the type of traveler you are.
The first tour option is called Valparaíso Highlights. It’s a 3-hour tour and visits the most significant attractions in the city, such as the funiculars (more on those below), the port, Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción neighborhoods, and epic street art. The second tour option is Valparaíso Off Beat and as you can guess from the name, this tour allows you to get off the beaten path and experience the city like a local. Over 2.5 hours, you’ll get a more authentic side of the city as you visit the port, Plaza Echaurren, and go on an art tour while learning about the politics and history of Valparaíso.
Funiculars are a must-have in this steep city! Ascensor Reina Victoria and Ascensor El Peral are two of the most popular funiculars. Both are located close to the bustling Plaza Sotomayor, the main square in the city. It only takes about 90 seconds to ride up the hills in these funiculars, which cost around 300 CLP (roughly 35 cents in USD). And as you can imagine, the views from the top are amazing!
Another fun spot to visit in Valparaíso is the piano staircase, which is located near the Reina Victoria funicular. Funnily, the street it’s on is called Beethoven St – what a coincidence! Anyway, this has become a bit of a social media famous spot, and it’s a great place to come and snap some interesting photos!
The restaurants in Valparaíso are top-class, and what better way to learn (and taste) the city’s epic cuisine than with a cooking class? This Chilean cooking class includes a market tour and is about 5.5 hours long. It makes the finished product (the delicious meal) all the more worthwhile since you are a part of the process, from selecting the food to making it. You’ll create a lunch that includes a starter, a main, and a dessert, and you’ll also get to try pisco sours and awesome Chilean wines. All that for under $70 USD!
Speaking of drinks, if you’re a craft beer lover (I definitely am), there are loads of great breweries in downtown Valparaíso! Our top pick is Cervecera del Puerto, a microbrewery with a relaxed vibe close to Plaza Sotomayor. A bit further from downtown is Cerveceria Liverpool, and it’s perfect if you want a quiet drink!
For a fun day just outside of Valparaíso, this surf and sandboard tour is my pick! I have experience snowboarding after growing up in Canada, but sandboarding was a whole new adventure. The tour includes the chance to ride down sand dunes on a sandboard and then try out surfing in the Pacific Ocean. All your transport, equipment, and instructors are taken care of and there’s even a bonus stop to see a colony of sea lions! It’s a pretty memorable day trip for only $130 USD.
Related Read: Before you book your hotel here, be sure to check out our guide to the best places to stay in Valparaiso!
10. Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
At the top of most adventurous travelers’ bucket lists is Easter Island (or Rapa Nui). This tiny island in Polynesia that belongs to Chile is one of the most remote places in the world. Would you believe it’s a whopping 2,200 miles (3,541 km) away from mainland Chile?
Easter Island is famous for its unusual Moai statues (there are over 900 of them here!), which date as far back as the 13th century. You probably recognize these carved human figures with giant heads from your social media feed. As I said, Easter Island is a popular destination for intrepid travelers!
Fascinatingly, the Moai statues are believed to be charged with sacred magical spirits, and visitors have noted that the island gives off spiritual or mysterious energy!
If you want to check Easter Island off of your Chile to-do list, there are a few things you need to know! First, it will take a lot of planning, considering it’s located so far from mainland Chile. Second, you will need to spend at least 3-5 days here as flights from Santiago only leave every Friday, Sunday, and Monday. A round-trip flight will set you back between $300-$700 USD on average during low season and upwards of $1,300 USD in high season. Once on the island, there are a bunch of different day tours to choose from!
This full-day tour comes with excellent reviews and includes pick-up and drop-off to your accommodation on the island. It’s a private tour, so you can go at your own pace and have the full attention of your local guide. What’s great, too, is that not only does this tour visit the famed Moai statues, but you’ll also get to see the hidden gem natural attractions on the island, such as the Rano Kau crater and Anakena beach. Prices start from $263 USD each for two people or $172 USD per person for a group of four.
In short, if you have the time and can afford it, visiting Easter Island during your vacation in Chile is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never forget!
The small town of Pucon sits in the heart of Chile’s Lake District. It’s built on the shores of the deep-blue Lake Villarrica and is overlooked by the snow-capped Villarrica Volcano (one of the most active volcanoes in South America!). So it’s safe to say it’s one of the prettiest spots on this list of Chile’s best places to visit.
Pucon is an adventure tourism hub known the world over for its white water rafting, kayaking, hiking (you can hike up several volcanoes here), and, in the winter, epic skiing and snowboarding conditions on said volcanoes! And there are lots of accommodation options in Pucon so you should spend a night or two here if you have the time!
Let’s start with one of the tamest activities in Pucon – hiking – not the volcanic hike but the scenic Laguna Negra trail. Located a short distance from downtown, it’s part of the El Cani Sanctuary, a privately owned sanctuary that is the first in the country. The trail is 9 miles (14.5 km) long and passes by the famous Araucaria trees (also known as Monkey Puzzle trees), a few mountain lakes, and offers incredible views along the way of the nearby volcanoes. Please note that the entrance fee to the sanctuary is 4,000 CLP ($4.60 USD) per person and it’s best to make a reservation beforehand.
Another tamer activity in Pucon, and one of the best things to do here in the summer, is to swim in Villarrica Lake. The water here is cool, but not too cold, and the black sand beach backed by mountains is so pretty. There are two main access points to the lake in Pucon. The first is Playa Grande at the northern end of town, and the second is La Poza, which is closer to downtown.
And now, for the adrenalin-pumping activities, if you’re an adventurous traveler, then a rafting tour along the Turbio River is a MUST. When we were here, we did this 3-hour rafting tour, and we had so much fun – it costs $50 USD and receives rave reviews. The river itself is very picturesque and has a few really fun rapids. Depending on the time of year you visit (and your overall comfort level), you can ride Class III or IV rapids on the Turbio!
Next, the absolute most popular thing to do in Pucon is hike up the mighty Villarrica Volcano. Unfortunately, many of the local tour companies don’t hike up the famed Villarrica but neighboring volcanoes (like Lanin and Llaima) instead for a view of it, which is a bit disappointing. However, what’s cool is that you can book a tour with Terra Volcano Pucon, and you will trek directly up to Villarrica! All in, the tour lasts 6-8 hours, and because you have the help of a seasoned guide who does this hike almost daily, you can be confident that you’ll successfully complete the hike! It costs $177 USD. Please note that in case of high volcanic activity, you will do an extended trek toward an ancient glacier.
Second-to-last on this list of the best places to visit in Chile is another adventure hub. The unusually named Futaleufu (which means “Large River”, you’ll get why in a moment) is situated in northern Patagonia, just 6 miles (10 km) from the border with Argentina!
Here, in the north of Patagonia, you’ll find lush forests and bright blue-green rivers, and per its name, Futaleufu’s tourism industry is pretty much entirely based around water sports like kayaking and white water rafting on the Futaleufu River. This river flows into Lake Yelcho, which is known worldwide as a haven for fly fishing!
In fact, Futaleufu is rated the third-best place in the world to go whitewater rafting! After taking on the Class V rapids on a whitewater rafting tour here, I can tell you that it’s definitely an epic activity, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart! The tour is led by certified guides, so you can rest assured you’ll be in safe hands. You’ll maneuver down Class IV and V rapids in the Vueltas River Canyon section of the Futaleufu River. It also includes lunch in a scenic spot. On this small group tour, wetsuits, wet shoes, and helmets will be provided in the overall cost of $105 USD.
Hikers will also be in heaven here, as the breathtaking mountains and valleys are begging to be hiked! Just outside of town, you’ll find the Reserva Nacional Futaleufu, home to a great hiking trail – Miradores Río Futaleufú y el Cóndor. It is a difficult, mostly forested trail that’s 2.5 miles (4 km) long but offers beautiful views along the way of the river valley and surrounding mountains. Los Alerces National Park, around 1.5 hours from town, has heaps of excellent trails, too, such as the Sendero Lahuan Soltario, a 4 mile (6.4 km) moderate trail that’s often regarded as the best hike in the area!
13. San Pedro de Atacama
And we’ve come to the last entry on our list of the best places to visit in Chile, and let me tell you, it’s a good one! San Pedro de Atacama is at the heart of the Atacama Desert, high in the Andes Mountains, and its dramatic high-altitude landscapes, akin to Mars, are some of the most remarkable in South America.
These landscapes include the salt flats of the Atacama, El Tatio Geysers, desert, volcanoes, and the ghost town of Humberstone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – so there’s no shortage of things to see. Not forgetting that San Pedro de Atacama is also known for its clear night skies – an impressive average of 320 nights annually – which makes it one of the best places in the world to go desert camping.
And, of course, the Valle de la Luna in the nearby Los Flamencos National Reserve is easily one of the region’s most popular attractions. That’s thanks in part to its proximity to San Pedro (just 6.2 miles/10 km away), but it’s mostly to do with the landscape here being like something from another planet. It’s also one of the driest places on earth. This unforgettable series of white and red rock formations is especially spectacular just before sunrise or sunset when this unique landscape is bathed in hues of pale pink.
You can get there without a guided tour if you have a rental car or by hiring a bike from one of the agencies. Rentals cost 10,000 CLP (roughly $10 USD) for the whole day, and it’s about a 30-minute bike ride each way!
Or you can do a guided tour like we did. This half-day afternoon tour (which is the best time of day to visit, in my opinion!) costs $52 USD and lasts for 4 hours. It’s led by a local guide who will take you to a salt cave, incredible natural attractions like the Tres Marias statues, and finally, you’ll get to watch the sunset from the top of the Great Dune. It’s a really romantic tour!
Another one of the highlights in the Atacama Desert is the Red Rocks, or Las Piedras Rojas, a massive series of red-colored rocks that are surrounded by a ring of volcanoes. You can walk on top of these unique rock formations while taking in the views of the surrounding volcanoes and the Salar de Talar salt flat!
Finally, the El Tatio geyser field is another must-visit in the Atacama Desert. With a mind-blowing 80 active geysers, it’s the third biggest geyser field in the world. It’s also the highest! Again, this attraction looks its best before sunrise when the dawn light makes the fumaroles (steam from the geysers) extra magical. Besides the spurting steam, there’s also abundant wildlife to be seen here, such as Andean foxes, Vicuñas (part of the camel family), and varied birdlife!
This 8-hour tour from San Pedro de Atacama is a fantastic option to see the geysers if you love guided tours (like us!). It costs just $62 USD and includes a light breakfast and round-trip transport from your hotel in San Pedro. After the geysers, you’ll stop by the tiny village of Machuca, where residents live in thatched-roof mud houses.
If you want to save yourself the hassle of trying to get to each amazing place in the Atacama Desert, why not book a multi-day tour like this 3-day option that takes you to the Atacama’s highlights like Valle de la Luna, Rainbow Valley, Cejar Lagoon, Tatio Geyser, and Escondida Lagoon. It’s an immersive experience and a great way to learn about the history of the area and the culture of the Atacameño peoples as well as see some magical otherworldly sights. Breakfast is included in the $340 USD price tag, but accommodation and the entrance fee to some of the attractions are additional.
If a visit to the Atacama isn’t high on your list of places to visit in Chile, then it should be! As I said, this place is like another planet!
Getting around Chile
1. Rental car or campervan
The easiest way to explore Chile is to rent a car or campervan. With limited buses in some areas and so much to explore on the side of the main highways, having the freedom of a rental car is amazing. On my second trip to Chile, I rented a rental car and loved it!
But the best part? I got it so cheap it worked out better than taking the bus! Between four of us, it only cost us $40 USD per day to have the car!
The best place to find a cheap rental car in Chile is on DiscoverCars.com. Here you can search every car company and view the cheapest prices available. For campervans, use Motorhome Republic. They’re another search engine for finding campervans and motorhomes!
If you’d like more info, you can read a separate guide we wrote specifically about renting a car in Patagonia.
I did take buses on my first trip to Chile. Although not the most ideal way to travel, it’s still okay, and it’s getting easier. Using websites like BusBud means you can pre-purchase tickets online and plan the route you want to go in advance.
For more common shuttle routes going to and from major cities in South America, you can look into Bookaway which offers affordable one-way and round-trip bus and train tickets.
Hitching hiking is super popular in Chile, especially in Patagonia. I hitchhiked lots during my trip to Patagonia in 2016 and loved it. We met so many amazing locals and other travelers along the way. Of course, you still have to be careful, and I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking alone.
If you’re curious, you can read about our first experience hitchhiking in Chile here … needless to say, we learned a few things.
When is the best time to visit Chile?
You’ve got to remember that Chile is a huge country, so the best time to visit will depend on where you’re going. Chile has three main tourist regions – Chilean Patagonia, San Pedro de Atacama, and the bustling cities of Santiago and Valparaiso.
Let’s start with the jewel in Chile’s crown – Patagonia, an outdoor lovers paradise and arguably one of the most beautiful regions in the whole world. The best time to visit Patagonia is in the summer months, aka from November to February, when the days are long and the weather is mild (expect 22°C/72°F days).
Summer is the most scenic and safest time to hike Torres del Paine, and other popular spots like the Marble Caves are at their most photogenic thanks to the brighter weather, but keep in mind, summer is also the busiest season, and prices will be at their highest. If you do plan to travel to Patagonia during the winter (June to September), it can be very windy during the day, and the nights will be super-cold.
San Pedro de Atacama, on the other hand, is one of the driest regions in the world. In fact, some areas here haven’t experienced rain for over 400 years! December to February are the best months to visit this stunning region, but honestly, temperatures are pretty stable all year round (sitting around 20°C/68°F). The primary difference between summer and winter here is the colder nights during the winter.
Finally, if you’re a ski fan, then be sure to hit up Santiago and Valparaiso during the Chilean winter, as this region is home to some of the best ski resorts in South America. If snow sports aren’t your cup of tea, we recommend visiting these vibrant cities in March and April before the summer crowds appear and when the weather is perfect and the trees dressed in their autumn colors really put on a show. It’s also the best time to go wine tasting in nearby Casablanca Valley!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
I really enjoyed writing about the best places to visit in Chile, and I hope this detailed guide has given you some food for thought as to where to spend your vacation in Chile. If you have the time, I strongly urge you to tick all of the above places off your Chilean bucket list!
If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comment section. If not, we’d still love to hear any comments you have about Chile or this blog!