There’s many incredible places to visit in Chile: I have been there twice, both times hardly long enough to get to know the country properly. The first time there, I crossed the border for a couple of days during a longer trip to Argentina, and just visited Torres del Paine National Park.
The second time I visited Chile was during a backpacking trip across South America that started in Bolivia and ended in Uruguay. I saw some incredible places to visit in Chile that made me fall in love with it.
Chile is an amazing, diverse country that has a lot to offer to its visitors. Chile tourist attractions include incredible natural sites – from the deserts of the north, to the mountains of windy Patagonia in the south; beautiful cities; a thriving cultural life; and superb food and wine – not to mention the fabulous Pisco Sour cocktail.
I don’t think 3 months would be enough to enjoy all the things to do in Chile. But the average traveler doesn’t have that long, unfortunately. Picking the places to visit in Chile when the time is limited can then become a real challenge. There’s also many tours in Chile that, for great value for money, allow to explore the country.
The following is a selection of just three places to visit in Chile. They are the ones that I enjoyed the most when I went and they at least give a rough idea of this unique country.
Three Places To Visit In Chile In Just Ten Days
Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile isn’t nearly as beautiful as other cities in South America such as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, but it is charming and full of life. It definitely is one of the places to visit in Chile that should not be missed.
It is without doubt that visiting Santiago is what to do in Chile to get a taste of the local culture and vibe. This is the cultural and political centre of the country, and where people from the rest of Chile go to manifest their dissent against the government.
Santiago It is packed with good restaurants, a great seafood market and lots of glamorous bars. If eating delicious food is one of the things to do in Chile, Santiago is the place to go. But there’s more than just that.
Here’s a few things to do to get to know Santiago better.
Take a free walking tour
Santiago de Chile can be explored on free walking tours that depart every day from the Catedral Metropolitana. Groups can be large, but the guides are local and experienced and they provide good insights about the city. Tours depart twice a day, the morning one also going to the market. Going on a free walking tour of Santiago is one of the nicest things to do in Chile.
Enjoy street art
People who enjoy street art will find several great examples of it in Chile. While Valparaiso is generally considered one of the top places to visit in Chile for street art, even Santiago has some great examples of it, scattered around the city centre.
Learn about the stray dogs
One of the nicest things to do in Chile (and in Latin America, in fact) is volunteering at animal shelters. Stray dogs are unfortunately common in all of Central and South America. In most countries, they are not taken care of and can be seen wandering around, looking for food or fighting for the control of territory. I have separated a few dogs myself when I was in Cuzco, Peru.
Dogs would hardly qualify as one of Chile tourist attractions. But in a (nice) way, they are. Santiago, and the rest of Chile, have a large population of strays. They are known as quiltro, and they are nicely taken care of. They are a bit like communal dogs, belonging to the public who seems to care for them – feeding them, offering companionships and helping getting them sterilized. It is not uncommon to find dog houses in parks and squares around the city.
Visit the Human Rights Museum
As a former human rights lawyer, the highlight of my visit to Santiago was the Human Rights Museum, locally known as Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. This is by far one of the best places to visit in Chile, to learn about the difficult past of the country.
Though this isn’t a jolly place, visiting the Human Rights Museum is one of the best things to do in Chile. The exhibit and the organization of the space make it very user friendly. It’s easy to spend a few hours browsing the various documents and videos and going from room to room.
Where to stay and eat in Santiago de Chile
Picking the right place to stay in a city as big as Santiago is important, so as to have access to the best Chile attractions in town. When I visited, I stayed at Hostal Che Lagarto and while it was fantastic in terms of rooms and services (great breakfast), I thought the area didn’t have a very good selection of good restaurants. CasAltura Boutique Hostel is a great alternative, and is close to the central market.
Trying local food is one of the nicest things to do in Chile, and the Mercado Central is one of the top picks in Santiago to do have lunch – there’s a fantastic selection of seafood. Bar Nacional in the center of Santiago, and Liguria in Providencia are also great options.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine may well be the best national park in South America. It has to be included in the list of places to visit in Chile, though getting there is quite a trip from Santiago. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1981, and a place to observe wildlife such as ostrich-like rhea (called ñandú), condors, flamingos, as well as guanacos.
Hiking is for sure one of the best things to do in Chile, and Torres del Paine is the ultimate place to go in order to hike. Remember though, this is Southern Patagonia: wind is typically strong, and with it comes the danger of quickly spreading fires such as the one caused by a visitor and that in 2011 destroyed over 40000 acres of old forest, killed animals and burned various buildings in the area.
What makes Torres del Paine a perfect place to hike and as such one of the nicest places to visit in Chile is the incredible array of hiking trails. Most trails are for multi-day hikes. The Paine Circuit takes between 7 and 9 days, but there’s some that are shorter, such as the W circuit or the hike between Refugio de las Torres and Mirador Las Torres, from where there’s a gorgeous view of the towers.
Another short hike that offers magnificent views to one of the nicest places to visit in Chile is that to Salto Grande, a gorgeous waterfall. From there, adding an hour walk it is possible to reach Mirador Nordernskjöld, with incredible views over the lake and mountains.
Torres del Paine National Park is scattered with camping sites and refugios where it is possible to sleep, though reservations are necessary. One way to go around the issue of having to make reservations and having to bother with organizational issues is going on a guided trek which will include all meals and accommodation – this may be one of the best things to do in Chile.
San Pedro de Atacama
At a whopping 24 hours bus ride (or a couple of hours flight) from Santiago, there’s San Pedro de Atacama, one of the nicest places to visit in Chile. The village (no more than 5000 people living there year round) is at 2400 meters above sea level and is a lovely series of adobe buildings, with a nice 17th century church, a lovely square, and a bunch of good bars and restaurants.
More importantly so, San Pedro de Atacama is a great starting point to explore the rest of the region, which is among the unmissable places to visit in Chile, and to try out a series of activities that are by far among the most fun things to do in Chile.
Here’s a few unmissable things to do and places to visit in the Atacama region.
Valle de la Luna
At 13 km west of San Pedro de Atacama, Valle de la Luna is one of the most incredible places to visit in Chile. It is a large valley with beautiful sand and stone formations carved by wind and water. Some of them, like Tres Marias, have interesing shapes to the point that they look man made.
The colors and the terrain of Valle de la Luna are so peculiar that walking there feels like walking on the moon. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, when, climbing a sand dune, it is possible to reach a view point from where there’s a spectacular sunset. Watching the sunset from Valle de la Luna is one of the top things to do in Chile.
Valle de la Muerte
Valle de la Muerte is also known as Mars Valley – and upon visiting, it is easy to see why. Located in the Salt Mountain range, and very close to San Pedro de Atacama, this is one of the nicest Chile tourist attractions. It is generally visited on a tour that includes a visit of Valle de la Luna and Tres Marias.
El Tatio Geysers
El Tatio definitely is one of the coolest places to visit in Chile that can be accessed from Atacama. The geysers are located at over 4300 meters above sea level and they are the world’s highest geyser field. They are a surreal sight, better admired at sunrise when it really feels like walking through a giant steam bath. Tours of El Tatio usually include a dip in the hot, thermal baths.
The dunes of Valle de la Muerte are a perfect place to go sandboarding, not to mention one of the best places to visit in Chile. There are various companies in San Pedro de Atacama that offer sandboarding expeditions. It’s possible to go in the morning or in the afternoon. Mornings are usually better though, as the temperatures are too hot in the afternoon.
Carrying a board (which is pretty much the same one would use when snowboarding), people go up a 150 meters high dune, to then slide down at full speed. The result is incredibly fun, though expect to be covered in sand for a few days and many showers afterwards. Sandboarding is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Chile.
Atacama desert is the driest place on earth. It virtually never rains there – which means the sky is always perfectly clear, during the day and at night. The dryness, the clear skies and the altitude all contribute to making Atacama the best place on earth to go star gazing. In fact, this is one of the nicest things to do in Chile.
Where to stay and eat in San Pedro de Atacama
Being one of the most famous places to visit in Chile, San Pedro de Atacama has a great range of accommodation options for pretty much any budget, from hostels and campgrounds to all inclusive resorts. Hostal Ayni and Hostal Campo Base are good budget options; whereas Tierra Atacama is perfect for those wanting to splurge.
On the main street of San Pedro de Atacama there are a bunch of good bars and restaurants. Eating local food and sipping good wine are among the best things to do in Chile. The best restaurant in town is La Casona. There’s also a bunch of street food places not far from the center, in a parking lot on the northern edge of town.
Have you ever been to Chile? What are your favorite places to visit in Chile?