There are many incredible places to visit in Chile: I have been there twice, both times hardly long enough to get to know the country as much as I’d like.
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.
Continue reading for a selection of the best places to visit in Chile, and the most interesting tourist attractions in Chile, listed from North to South.
The Best Places To Visit In Chile
Parque Nacional Lauca
If you have a thing for volcanoes and the Andes remain one of your mountain dreams, this is one of the most interesting places to visit in Chile. Parque Nacional Lauca is found at about 140 km (about 87 miles) east of Arica, in the north of the country and is home to – among others – Pomerape and Parinacota volcanoes.
The park is a fantastic hiking destination. It highlights include the beautiful lakes of Cotacotani and Chungara, one of the highest lakes in the world at the foot of the Payachata volcanoes; several archeological sites; and an incredible wildlife with around 140 species of birds which include the Chilean flamingo and the Andean condor.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, this ghost town located at the North of Chile, in the Atacama Desert region near Iquique and close to the border with Bolivia and Peru is one of the most interesting tourist attractions in Chile. Founded in 1872, this mining town was originally known as La Palma and at its peak 3500 people lived there.
The town was named after James Humberstone, a British engineer whose fortune was all due to saltpeter, used to make fertilizers and which was so abundant in this part of the world that at some point in the 20th century almost all saltpeter in the world came from then Atacama Desert.
Humberstone, which was originally in Peruvian territory, was literally fought over by the three bordering countries. It was eventually completely abandoned in the 1960s but has since remained a very interesting place to visit.
TIP: Visit on a guided tour to make the most of the area and learn about its complex history.
San Pedro de Atacama and Atacama Desert
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 2,400 meters (7,874 feet) 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 and to try out a series of fun activities such as sandboarding (which is best done in the morning, when temperatures are still mild); and stargazing, for which Atacama Desert – being the driest place on earth – is literally the best place.
Check out my post A Complete Guide To San Pedro De Atacama.
Valle de la Luna
13 km (8 miles) west of San Pedro de Atacama, Valle de la Luna is a large valley with beautiful sand and stone formations carved by wind and water. Some of them, like Tres Marias, have interesting 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.
The best way to visit in on guided tours such as this one.
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 a great place to explore. It is generally visited on a tour that includes a visit of Valle de la Luna and Tres Marias.
El Tatio Geysers
El Tatio can be easily accessed from San Pedro de Atacama. The geysers are located at over 4,300 meters (14,107 feet) above sea level and they are the world’s highest geyser field. They are a surreal sight, best 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.
Pisco is the national drink of Chile (and of Peru too, actually), so it makes sense to visit the area – which is close to La Serena – where it mostly comes from. You can explore a distillery and go on a Pisco tasting tour, and the area is packed with good hiking trails too.
Guided tours of the area depart from La Serena. For more information, click here.
Santiago isn’t nearly as beautiful as other cities in South America, but it is charming and full of life. It definitely is one of the places to visit in Chile that should not be missed, especially as there you can get a taste of the local culture and vibe. Founded in 1541, 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.
Here is a selection of places you should visit in Santiago:
CENTRO CULTURAL PALACIO LA MONEDA – Currently the seat of the Chilean President, it’s where you can observe the changing of the guard.
MUSEO NACIONAL DE BELLAS ARTES – The National Museum of Fine Arts first opened in 1880 and has a strong focus on Chilean artists, with an excellent collection of paintings, sculptures and more.
MUSEO CHILENO DE ARTE PRECOLOMBINO – The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art is the best place to learn about the ancient history of the country.
MUSEO DE LA MEMORIA Y LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS – The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is the best place to learn about the difficult most recent past of the country and the sufferings during Pinochet dictatorship.
SAN CRISTOBAL HILL – The best place for views of the city, it’s where you’ll also see a 22-meters tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
PARQUE METROPOLITANO DE SANTIAGO – The main city park, hosting a botanical garden and a funicular.
Other things you should not miss in Santiago are a free walking tour – there are regular ones departing twice a day from the Catedral Metropolitana, in Plaza de Armas, that will also tell you about the local quiltro – AKA the stray dogs; and a street art tour. Finally Santiago is also packed with good restaurants, a great seafood market (the fabulous Mercado Central) and lots of glamorous bars.
Cajon del Maipo
An easy day trip from Santiago, Cajon del Maipo is the perfect place to go hiking, rafting and more. Make sure not to miss the beautiful Embalse el Yeso, famous for its turquoise waters, and the local hot springs. You can go independently or, to make the most of the area, on a guided tour.
You can’t go to Chile and skip Valparaíso. The third largest city in the country is beautifully set between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and little over 100 km (little over 62 miles) from the capital – thus being a great place for a day trip.
Check out the best day trips from Santiago to Valparaíso here.
The main sights include:
MUSEO LORD COCHRANE – Lord Cochrane Museum, located in a colonial building dating back to 1842 and focusing on the maritime heritage of the city and the country.
MUSEO NAVAL Y MARITIMO – The Naval and Maritime Museum has an interesting exhibit about the War of the Pacific which in 1879 saw Chile on one side, and Peru and Bolivia on the other.
For more naval and war history of Chile, you may want to visit the Ironclad Huáscar located in the Port of Talcahuano, around 600 km (about 373 miles) south of the capital.
Other than that, Valparaíso is a great place to go for a stroll (I recommend this guided walking tour), enjoy the local beaches and admire the best street art in the country – this is where Inti, which has painted some of the best murals in Santiago, is from.
For a great guided street art tour of Valparaiso, click here.
Make sure to check out my post The Best Things To Do In Valparaiso.
Easily reached from Santiago from which it is just 46 km (28.5 miles) and less than one hour and 30 minutes drive, Valle Nevado, in the region of El Plomo, is one of the best ski resorts in South America, first opened in 1988. If you are into skiing, you will appreciate the excellent quality of the snow – powdery and dry, as this area is located at 3,000 meters (9,842 feet)above sea levels.
If you visit Chile in the winter, you may go there on a guided day trip from Santiago such as this one.
If on the other hand you visit in the summer, you will be glad to find a lot of hiking trails and places that are perfect for biking and horse riding.
Other ski resorts close to Santiago de Chile are Portillo, known as the oldest ski resort in South America and famous for the yellow building visible from anywhere in the area; Farellones, within easy distance from Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Chile for nature and adventure lovers, who go there to climb Villarrica volcano, go whitewater rafting, horse riding and – at the end of an adrenaline filled day – enjoy the thermal baths.
One of the most scenic parts of the country, in the lake region and named after the Cochamó river, Cochamó Valley is often described as Chile’s own Yosemite. It’s one of the best places in Chile for fly fishing, hiking, for there is a plethora of hiking trails of various difficulty levels, as well as rock climbing.
The most popular hike is by far the Cowboy Trail, a 10 km hike which starts in Cochamó village and goes all the way to La Junta.
The Lake District
The Lake District of Chile (Los Lagos) stretches for well over 300 km (186.4 miles) , from Temuco to Puerto Montt; it includes the lovely town of Puerto Varas, and is a fantastic place for hiking, biking, horse riding and water sports such as kayaking. Volcano climbing is another favorite.
It’s interesting to see that the towns in the region all resemble the traditional architecture style of countries such as Switzerland or Austria, when originally this is where the Mapuche Indigenous People. Unfortunately, the arrival of European settlers forced the Mapuche to relocate.
Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park
Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales was established in 1926 – the first in the country. Its main highlight is the Saltos del Petrohué, a gorgeous waterfall whose view is particularly beautiful after heavy rain. The area, known for its volcanoes and thermal springs, provides plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting – watch carefully and you may be able to spot deer and pumas. Bird watching and fishing are available too.
You can easily get to Vicente Pérez National Park from Puerto Montt.
Located in Palena Province, in the Lake District, this nature sanctuary was established in 2005 thanks to the American Conservation Land Trust. The sanctuary covers an area of almost a million acres from from the Pacific coast to the Andes mountain range and is one of the nicest tourist attractions in Chile.
The aim of the sanctuary is that of protecting the unique flora and fauna of the region, which includes the Alerce tree – one of the oldest tree species in the world. At the park you will find a great range of hiking trails as well as camping sites and cabins.
Chiloé National Park
Chiloé Island – the second largest in Chile and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is a truly special place. Scattered around the island you will be able to see wooden churches that date back to the 16th century, when a community of Jesuit missionaries established itself there. Chiloé most famous sight, however, remain the “palafitos” – colorful, old stilt houses built along the coast.
Chiloé National Park is one of the best destinations in Chile to spot blue whales and dolphins, as well as penguins, many of whom living in the Islotes de Puñihuil Natural Monument.
Chiloé can be visited on day trips departing from Puerto Varas such as this one.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine may well be the best national park in South America and has to be included in the list of places to visit in Chile. 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.
Torres del Paine is the ultimate place in South America for hiking. Remember though, this is Southern Patagonia: wind is typically strong, and with it comes, there is great 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 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 are some shorter trails, 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 is that to Salto Grande, a gorgeous waterfall. From there, adding an hour walk you can reach Mirador Nordernskjöld, with incredible views over the lake and mountains.
Torres del Paine National Park is scattered with camping sites and refugios where you can 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.
Here are some good guided tours of Torres del Paine National Park:
For more readings about Patagonia, make sure to check the following posts:
- Guide to hiking in Patagonia
- What to pack for a hiking trip in Patagonia
- Hiking In Patagonia: 16 Incredible Trails
- 30 Things You Should Consider Before Traveling To Patagonia
- Hiking Gear And More: The Perfect Patagonia Packing List
Mylodon Cave Natural Monument
Close to Puerto Natales, in the heart of Chilean Patagonia, El Monumento Natural Cueva del Milodón is a system of caves which includes the Milodón Cave, which is 200 meters deep and where the remains of a prehistoric Mylodon were found in 1895. Another interesting landmark is the Silla del Diablo, or Devil’s Chair, an interesting rock formation. You will also find a multitude of good hiking trails.
You can visit Mylodon Cave Natural Monument during day trips from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park such as this one.
Tierra del Fuego
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Chile, Tierra del Fuego is a great destination for nature, adventure and wildlife lovers. It’s a great spot to observe Magellanic and Humboldt penguins, as well as humpback whales, sea lions and dolphins.
Monumento natural Los Pingüinos, 35 km (21.7 miles) northeast of Punta Arenas and including Magdalena and Marta Islands, is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins, as well as sea lions and seals. It can be accessed on boat tours departing from Punta Arenas.
The following guided tours depart from Punta Arenas and are centered on wildlife watching:
- Punta Arenas: King Penguin & Tierra del Fuego Tour
- Punta Arenas: Full-Day Whales, Penguins, and Glaciers Tour
You can easily cross over from Chilean Tierra del Fuego to Ushuaia, in Argentina, for even more adventures. Make sure to check out my post Everything You Need To Know About Ushuaia, Patagonia.
BONUS! Easter Island and Rapa Nui National Park
I haven’t actually been to Easter Island yet – I feel like it deserves a trip of its own – but I thought I should at least mention it among the best places to visit in Chile anyways.
At 3500 km off the coast of Chile, the island – whose population is actually Polynesian – was first explored in 1722 by a Dutch explorer, and its name is due to the fact that he first arrived there on Easter Sunday. The main attraction in Easter Island – now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the massive stone sculptures. These can be seen in various spots – one is the Rapa Nui National Park; another is the Ahu Tongariki.
Easter Island also has some stunning beaches, and is home to the excellent Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum, located in Hanga Roa – the main town.
You can fly to Easter Island from Santiago de Chile. Flights take little over 5 hours.
Are you planning a longer trip to South America? Make sure to read my posts:
- A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina
- The Most Incredible 7 Things To Do In Uruguay
- The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu: A Useful Guide
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike Marcahuasi, Peru