Chile Travel Guide
Welcome to our Chile travel guide! Embraced by the Andes and the Pacific, Chile is a splendid tapestry of stunning landscapes, vibrant cultures, and an irresistible charm.
From the shimmering salt flats of the Atacama Desert to the awe-inspiring glaciers of Patagonia, the rich vineyards of Central Valley to the bustling cityscape of Santiago, this South American gem captivates with its diversity and warmth.
Get ready to discover, explore and fall in love with Chile's abundant natural beauty and cultural highlights.
Capital city: Santiago
Currency: Chilean Peso (CLP). 1 USD = 827 CLP.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type C and L.
Languages: Spanish, but also Indigenous languages such as Mapuche, Aymara, Quechua and Rapa Nui (on Easter Island).
Fun fact: Chile is home to the world’s driest place outside the poles, the Atacama Desert? Despite the arid conditions, life has found a way and the desert blooms with wildflowers in wet years, creating a stunning, starkly beautiful landscape.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Chile
Here are 10 ideas of what’s not to miss in Chile, particularly if like me you are a nature and landscape lover!
A journey to the Atacama Desert is like stepping onto another planet. Known as the driest place on Earth, it offers a landscape of salt flats, sand dunes, hot springs, and geysers. A must-visit is the otherworldly Valle de la Luna, a place of unusual rock formations and colors.
A highlight is watching the sunset here when the desert’s color palette truly comes alive. El Tatio geysers, the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, provides another draw, best viewed at sunrise when they’re most active.
Torres del Paine National Park
Located in the southernmost region of Chile, this national park is a breathtaking blend of mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. Its centerpiece, the Cordillera del Paine, is an imposing and beautiful mountain range that includes the iconic Paine Towers.
Popular treks include the “W” and “O” circuits, but shorter walks to magnificent sights like Grey Glacier, French Valley, or Mirador Las Torres are just as rewarding.
Valparaiso, or “Valpo” as it’s affectionately known, is a cultural gem. Its hilly landscape is a canvas of colorful houses, street art, and winding stairways.
Highlights include La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes, and the historic Polanco Lift. Its vibrant nightlife, centered around the Concepción and Bellavista hills, offers a plethora of bars and restaurants serving local cuisine and the famous Chilean wine.
This remote volcanic island is best known for its 887 extant monumental statues called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people.
You can also explore the Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were carved, the ceremonial village of Orongo, or relax at Anakena, a beautiful white sand beach.
Nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes, Santiago boasts a dramatic setting. The Chilean capital offers a diverse range of experiences, from exploring the historic center around Plaza de Armas, climbing San Cristóbal Hill for panoramic views, to dining at a parrillada (traditional barbecue) in the trendy Bellavista district.
Lauca National Park
Located in the Andes’ Altiplano region, Lauca National Park boasts an extraordinary variety of landscapes and ecosystems.
From snow-capped volcanoes, such as Parinacota, shimmering salt flats, and hot springs to the high-altitude Lake Chungará, one of the highest lakes in the world. It’s also a great place for wildlife spotting, with vicuñas, vizcachas, and flamingos among the park’s inhabitants.
One of Chile’s most unusual and beautiful natural landmarks, the Marble Caves, is a network of weathered tunnels and pillars created in monoliths of marble.
The swirling colors of the cavern walls, reflected in the clear blue waters of General Carrera Lake, create a surreal and enchanting atmosphere.
Valle de la Luna
Located in the Atacama Desert, Valle de la Luna is known for its moon-like landscapes, hence its name. The valley’s wind and water-eroded salt formations give the appearance of a lunar landscape, and the absence of humidity means there’s virtually no life here. Watching the sunset, which turns the mountains and valley a vibrant range of colors, is a must.
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama serves as a gateway to the Atacama’s other attractions. But the town itself is charming, with adobe houses, a quaint plaza, a 17th-century church, and the excellent R. P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum. Its clear skies also make it an excellent place for stargazing, with several observatories offering nighttime tours.
A land of myths and legends, the Chiloé Archipelago offers a unique blend of indigenous and Spanish colonial influences, evident in its architecture, cuisine, and traditions.
Don’t miss the chance to see the UNESCO-listed churches, built entirely of native timber and wooden tiles. Also, make sure to try the traditional dish curanto, a hearty stew cooked in a hole in the ground.
Chile's Geography & Landscapes
Chile’s geography is incredibly diverse and varied due to its elongated shape. Running over 4,300 kilometers from north to south, but averaging only 177 kilometers from east to west, Chile spans several geographic and climatic zones.
To the north, you’ll find the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, home to barren landscapes, salt flats, and geysers. Central Chile is characterized by a temperate Mediterranean climate, with vineyards, forests, and the vibrant capital city of Santiago.
To the south, the landscape turns into a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The Andes mountains extend throughout the length of the country, providing a stunning backdrop and hosting numerous active volcanoes.
Chile also has several beautiful islands like Juan Fernandez Islands, Easter Island, and Chiloé, each offering unique landscapes and biodiversity. The southernmost region, Patagonia, is a harsh, windswept wilderness of breathtaking beauty, with ice fields, glaciers, and stunning national parks like Torres del Paine.
Best Time To Go To Chile
Given its geography, the best time to visit Chile depends on the region you’re interested in. Generally, the country experiences a reverse of the Northern Hemisphere seasons.
For visiting Central Chile, including Santiago, Valparaiso, and the Wine Region, the best time is during their summer (December to March) when temperatures are warm and the landscape is vibrant.
For Patagonia and the extreme south, the window of visit is narrower due to harsh weather conditions. The best time is the austral summer (November to early March) when temperatures are relatively milder. Still, be prepared for unpredictable weather changes.
For the Atacama Desert in the north, it’s possible to visit all year round. However, keep in mind that temperatures can drop significantly at night, even during the summer.
Easter Island has a subtropical climate and can be visited all year round, but the most pleasant weather occurs from January to March.
Remember, Chile’s weather can be unpredictable, so always be prepared and check the local forecast.
Traveling in Chile
Here are some pieces of advice to ensure a safe and worry-free trip:
Stay Alert in Crowded Areas: Like any other destination, tourists can be targets for pickpockets, especially in crowded areas. Keep your belongings close, and be particularly careful in public transport and popular tourist sites.
Secure Valuables: Use hotel safes or lockers to store your valuables when not in use. Never leave them unattended at the beach or in parked cars.
Earthquakes and Tsunamis: Chile is located in an earthquake-prone zone. Familiarize yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake or tsunami.
Altitude Sickness: When visiting high-altitude areas in the Andes, be aware of the risk of altitude sickness. Ascend slowly and stay hydrated.
Respect Nature: Follow safety guidelines in national parks and other natural areas. Weather conditions can change quickly, especially in Patagonia, so always be prepared.
Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses, including emergency repatriation.
Responsible Behavior: Respect local customs and traditions. Be mindful of the impact of your actions on local communities and the environment.
Road Safety: If you plan to drive, be aware that road conditions can vary, particularly in rural areas. Always wear your seatbelt.
Emergency Number: The emergency number in Chile is 133. It’s useful to have it saved in your phone.
Sun Protection: The sun in Chile can be strong, particularly in the north. Wear sun protection and stay hydrated.
Getting to & Around Chile
The main international gateway to Chile is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago. Other significant airports include Antofagasta, Concepción, and Punta Arenas.
Long-distance bus travel is a popular mode of transportation in Chile, with comfortable and reliable services. Notable companies include TurBus and Pullman.
For exploring at your own pace, renting a car is an option. Keep in mind that driving in Chile can be challenging due to the terrain and changeable weather conditions, especially in the south.
In larger cities, public transportation includes buses and Santiago boasts a modern and efficient metro system. Taxis and rideshares are readily available.
Accommodation options in Chile are diverse, catering to all budgets. In Santiago and other cities, you’ll find everything from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. Airbnb is also an option for short-term rentals.
Guesthouses (residenciales) and homestays offer a more local experience, particularly in rural areas.
For those exploring the great outdoors, numerous campsites and eco-lodges are located near national parks and other natural attractions. Do note that in high-demand areas like Patagonia, accommodation can book out months in advance, particularly during the peak summer season.
Prices can range significantly, but generally, expect to pay around $15-25 for a hostel, $50-100 for a mid-range hotel, and over $100 for luxury accommodation. Always check reviews and book in advance where possible.