12 Chile Highlights (you just have to do!)
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Chile is filled with so many amazing highlights! After visiting on two separate occasions, I have to say, it’s got something for everyone. From the Andes Mountain Range to the Atacama Desert, there’s just simply so much to see and do in Chile!
With that said, there were a few experiences, places I visited, and things I did that became my highlights of Chile and left me wanting to return again soon.
Those experiences hit all the best things to see and do in Chile and touched on the culture, history, food and stunning landscapes.
Here are my 12 Chile highlights to add to your bucket list!
1. Go Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is a true highlight in Chile. This stunning national park is filled with breathtaking views. Located in the very south of Chile near the town of Puerto Natales, the park is a hiker’s dream and people come from all over the world to visit.
I myself have been lucky enough to visit twice, hiking both the Torres del Paine W Trek and the big O Circuit. Of course, you don’t have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the park and the most famous hike is the Las Torres Viewpoint which can be completed in one day.
Regardless of what hike you choose to do, Torres del Paine National Park is a true Chile highlight and something you just need to see for yourself!
2. Whitewater rafting in Futaleufu
Futaleufu is another beautiful place to visit in Chile and is located in the northern part of Chile’s Patagonia. However, the main difference between the south and the north of Patagonia is the dry desert environment disappears and lush green forests and stunning rivers take its place.
The rivers are famous for their blue and green colors created by melting glacier ice. But, another reason Futaleufu is so famous is that it’s rated the 3rd best place in the world to go whitewater rafting!
This made Futaleufu a must-visit for me and after hitting the class-5 rapids on a whitewater rafting tour, I can tell you that it’s amazing! The rapids are pretty crazy and I had a blast getting soaked as we bumped and bashed our way down the Vueltas River Canyon.
This is one adventure sport you just have to do in Chile if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush!
3. Sail the fiords from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt
The most remote region of Patagonia is the highly inaccessible fiords on the coast of Chile. This area is visited by only a handful of people on the ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. this ferry is the only way you can experience this Chile highlight for yourself.
The trip takes 4 days and 3 nights aboard a ferry, and on the journey from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, you can enjoy breathtaking views the entire way.
Although not a luxury cruise, this also makes it more affordable in an expensive part of the world. Navimag is the company that operates the ferry and cruises run back and forth regularly.
This is a very unique thing to do in Chile and one experience not many travelers have!
4. Spend the night in a luxury hotel in Torres del Paine NP
We all know you can go hiking in Torres del Paine National Park. But what about the non-hikers? Well, Torres del Paine NP is filled with luxury hotels where you can enjoy breathtaking views, enjoy easy guided hikes, or even go horse riding.
These hotels in Torres del Paine National Park provide a great alternative to camping in the Torres. And despite my love for hiking, this is still one of my favorite things to do in Chile.
Of course, hotels in the park don’t come cheap and for a hotel with amazing views and a luxurious stay expect to pay around $300 USD per night. There are some budget hostels in the park too though and you can read all about them in my guide to the best Torres del Paine hotels.
5. Enjoy history and culture in Valparaiso
The historical city of Valparaiso is a must-visit in Chile. The city holds a lot of historical importance and the UNESCO World Heritage part fo the city is simply beautiful! Located only a few hours from Santiago, you can actually visit Valparaiso on a day trip, or as I recommend, spend a few nights in one of the best hotels in Valparaiso.
In Valparaiso, you can learn about the history of the city on guided walking tours, enjoy amazing food, and just experience Chilean culture. At night, you can also head out for some crazy Chilean nightlife and party the night away at trendy bars with live music.
Regardless of what you go to Valparaiso for, you’re sure to fall in love with this vibrant and colorful coastal town!
6. Eat amazing food in Santiago
Santiago is the capital of Chile and the country’s most important city. This makes it a mecca for Chilean cuisine and the best place in the country to sample food. You can literally find it all in Santiago!
Some things you must try include Chilean beef, Chorrillana, Cerviche, and Patasca. These are all Chilean favorites from around the country and you will easily find all of these dishes to try in Santiago!
Of course, to wash it all down be sure to get a Pisco Sour. This famous cocktail is made with a spirit called Pisco. It is delicious and depending on who you ask, it’s either from Chile or Peru – they both claim its birthrights! Regardless, it’s a must-try and a unique cocktail made with egg whites!
7. Take a cruise through the Marble Caves
When I first heard about the Marble Caves in Chile it was a little-known attraction that was extremely hard to get to by bus. But, knowing my love for off the beaten path experiences, I went for it and actually had to hitchhike in Chile to get there.
However, I made it and I loved it! The Marble Caves are as the name suggests, caves made of marble. Carved by water, they form amazing shapes and the breathtaking colors of General Carrera Lake make it even more amazing.
The Marble Caves are located near the town of Puerto Rio Tranquillo. Although hard to get to by bus this destination is becoming more and more popular meaning it’s now easier to get to. From Rio Tranquillo, the best way to see the caves is on a small boat cruise that takes you into some of the caves.
If the photo I took above hasn’t sold you on visiting one of my favorite Chile highlights, then I don’t know what will! This is easily one of the best things to do in Chile!
8. See King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego Island
King Penguins are the second largest penguins in the world and the only place you can see them (other than the sub-Antarctic islands) is on Tierra del Fuego Island in Chile.
Tierra del Fuego Island is located in the very south of Chile and the penguins are most commonly visited from Punta Arenas. From here, tours run to the penguin colony where you can see the King penguins from a viewing platform.
The colony here is home to 80 King penguins that come to this exact spot to raise their young. During my visit, I actually got to see two baby King penguins!
This was the first time I’d ever seen penguins so large and it was really a dream come true on my Chile trip. If you do venture south near Punta Arenas, make sure to add this to your Chile bucket list!
9. Drink craft beer
What surprised me most about Chile was their amazing craft beer. For a self-confessed craft beer lover, it was such a welcoming surprise that had me sampling beers from around the country.
Some of the best places to try craft beer included Valparaiso, Puerto Natales, and Punta Arenas. In these cities and towns, the range of high quality and delicious beers was endless and my favorites were definitely the Patagonia beers!
I guess it’s true what they say, it all starts with quality water and Patagonia is home to some of the cleanest on the planet!
10. Visit the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert in far north Chile is yet another example of Chile’s ever-changing landscapes. The Atacama is one of the driest places in the world and is a harsh but beautiful place to visit in Chile.
To explore the Atacama the most popular city (and easiest to visit) is San Pedro. From San Pedro, you can head off and explore some of the best things to do in the Atacama such as visiting the salt flats of the Atacama, El Tatio, and Valle de La Luna.
However, you don’t need to do a tour to enjoy the salt flats and if you love seeing the stars, then the Atacama Desert is an amazing place to see them with little to no light pollution.
If a visit to the Atacama isn’t high on your things to do in Chile list then it should be, this place is like another planet!
11. Eat Lamb al Asador
Lamb al Asador is a Patagonian roasted lamb dish that you’ll find all over the region. It involves slow-roasting a whole lamb over hot coals for 4 hours and it’s delicious.
To get the best Lamb al Asador and to be sure its authentic look for the lamb cooking in the window if restaurants. That way you’ll know what your getting is fresh and been cooked right there in front of you.
As Lamb al Asador takes a while to cook you can’t find the dish during lunch and instead will need to wait until dinner to try this Patagonian treat.
If you love lamb then Lamb al Asador definitely will end up being one of your Chile or Patagonia highlights!
12. Visit the Magellanic Penguin colony in Punta Arenas
Magellanic penguins are the most common penguin in Patagonia and Chile. In fact, in Patagonia, there are almost more Magellanic penguins than people!
The Magellanic Penguins live in large colonies and on Magdalena Island near Punta Arenas you can see up to 120,000 of them! That’s one small island filled with a lot of penguins and there are so many you are pretty much guaranteed to see them.
From Punta Arenas, you can join an organized tour to the island on a fast boat, or you can just take the public slow ferry. The slow ferry takes a few hours to reach to island whereas the fast boats take only 45 minutes. Once on the island, you can walk around and spot lots of Magellanic Penguins before returning back to Punta Arenas.
If you love wildlife then this is one of the best things to do in Chile!
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 dad a rental car and loved it! But the best part?
I got it so cheap it worked out better than taking the bus! Between 4 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 Rentalcars.com. Here you can search every car company and view the cheapest prices available. For a campervans use Motorhome Republic. They’re another search engine for finding campervans and motorhomes!
As I said before, 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 Bus Bud means you can pre-purchase tickets online and plan the route you want to go in advance.
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 do still have to be careful and I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking alone.
Before you go…
Thanks so much for reading our blog. I really hope it’s helped you plan your trip to Chile and you now have a load of Chile highlights to cross off your 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!
March 12, 2020