Chile Travel Guide
Chile is an extremely long country with a huge variety of landscapes to attract those on vacation. There are cosmopolitan cities to explore, deserts to admire, the Lake District region in which to go hiking, the Chilean fjords in which to take a cruise and fantastic trekking to be had at the southern tip of Chile.
Perhaps the country’s most attractive feature is its beautiful natural environment, which is complemented by abundant adventure and leisure opportunities. Its pretty coastline encompasses nearly 5,000kms of golden bays and beaches while the mighty Andes offer further possibilities for activity and sightseeing. The vast Atacama Desert, the fascinating volcanic regions and the desolate landscapes of Patagonia are other draws.
In the north is Arica, which lies near to Lauca National Park and its archaeological and natural sights including Putre’s geoglyphs. An unmissable heritage site, La Serena is also within reach and one of Chile’s oldest post-Colombian areas.
Chile’s national parks are outstanding. Puyehue National Park in the Lake District is the most visited. Its unusual volcanic landscape and thick forest conceal a diverse collection of wildlife. Chile’s southernmost tip is the remote region of Patagonia, where Laguna San Rafael National Park offers sightseeing of fjords, icebergs, and mountains.
Featuring 150-plus wooden churches, the compact island of Chiloé is home to Chiloé National Park, an extensive woodland area. Easter Island rests 3,700kms west off the mainland and is where hundreds of huge hand-carved statues constructed from volcanic basalt are found. How these artworks were transported from inland quarries to the shoreline remains a mystery.
Leisure and sporting opportunities include climbing, hiking, rafting, diving and mountain biking. But you can also relax in the sun and sample world-famous Chilean wines.
Chile is easily accessible by air via Santiago International Airport and by bus from neighboring countries. It offers every class and style of the hotel from pampered luxury in the main cities and ski resorts to homestays and more basic hostels in less populated areas.
Santiago, Capital City of Chile
Your flight to Chile will normally be in the capital city, Santiago. Santiago is worth a couple of days to explore, particularly the old port town of Valparaiso. Portillo and Valle Nevado are two popular skiing vacation destinations near Santiago. The Colchagua valley will appeal to those seeking a wine tasting tour.
Northern Chile Vacations
Catch a flight from Santiago to Calama to visit the Atacama Desert. Three of four nights is normally enough to explore the Atacama desert with its fascinating volcanic landscape. Activities such as exploring, mountain biking and hiking are popular. The best hotel in the Atacama is the Explora en Atacama.
Catch a flight from Santiago to Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, known locally as Rapa Nui, with Lan Chile. Easter Island is famous for its giant stone busts. A vacation to Easter Island is a cultural experience – if you are seeking a beach holiday in Chile this is not the best place. The best hotel in Easter Island is the Explora Rapa Nui. Three or four nights is normally sufficed in Easter Island.
Known as Rapa Nui locally, Easter Island is indeed one of Chile’s legendary travel highlights. The remote Pacific island is covered with 600 mysterious, giant, stone-carved statues. To travel to Easter Island, it’s a long 5-hour flight from Chile’s capital Santiago. Don’t visit Easter Island expecting beaches (they are not worth it – better to fly to Florianopolis in Southern Brazil) – this will be a highly cultural tour to Chile that is rich in history.
You’ll need at least two full days on Easter Island to make the most of your trip as there are so many interesting sites to visit. It’s common to book an all-inclusive 3 or 4-night package including the LAN flights to and from Santiago (note that many flights continue on to Papeete in Tahiti). The best hotel in Easter Island is the luxury Explora en Rapa Nui. Other more affordable hotels include the O’Tai, Hanga Roa, Taha Tai, and Taura’a.
Lake District / Patagonia
For many, one of Chile’s main highlights is it’s Lake District region of Patagonia. You can catch a flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt, which is 30 minutes from the lakeside tourist town of Puerto Varas, and pretty village to use as a base to explore and go hiking in the surrounding countryside. Other popular vacation destinations in Patagonia include Pucon and Villarica, which are slightly further afield. Chiloe Island is nearby and is an exceptionally beautiful island that can be visited. Chiloe has fantastic mythology and is scattered with pretty churches throughout the mountainous landscape. From Puerto Montt, the lake crossing to Bariloche in Argentina is a very scenic trip. Tourists might also have a cruise through the Chilean fjords further south in Chile’s Patagonia.
Torres Del Paine, Southern Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is the highlight of any vacation to Chile. Travelers will need to catch a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, from where it is a five-hour drive to Torres del Paine National Park. Dramatic landscapes with towering cliff faces provide a sensational background for outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, rafting, horseback riding and generally exploring one of the most beautiful parts of the world. For a five star hotel, try staying at the Explora en Patagonia, quite possibly the best hotel in South America. To travel on from Torres del Paine it’s a long day’s scenic drive over the Andes to El Calafate in Argentina.
Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park offers some of South America’s most amazing scenery and hiking opportunities. The spectacular landscape is one of lakes, wilderness, and towering granite peaks. Torres del Paine is Chile’s no.1 travel attraction, and deservedly so.
Right at the Southern-most tip of Chile is Punta Arenas, from where there are flights to Santiago and various other destinations, in addition to occasional flights to Ushuaia in Southern Argentina. It’s 5 hours overland travel to Torres del Paine, so you might want to break the journey by overnighting at a hotel. There’s also a Magdalena penguin colony just outside of town. Luxury hotels in Punta Arenas include Cabo de Hornos, Tierra del Fuego Hotel or Jose Nogueira.
The journey north to Torres del Paine passes through Puerto Natales, a beautifully situated lakeside town in which there is little to do, though there are buses to El Calafate in Argentina. Travel onwards to the real highlight of Chile, Torres del Paine.
Torres del Paine is spectacularly, indescribably beautiful and remote, though the National Park does fill up with visitors in January and February. The Park offers some extremely challenging trekking, in addition to some more gentle hikes. There are many types of birds and other wildlife in this remote region of Chile, in addition to other outdoor activities such as scenic boat trips.
Luxury Hotels in Torres del Paine
If you can afford it, by far the best and most exclusive hotel in Torres del Paine is the near-faultless Explora en Patagonia Hotel. A step down in price is the excellent Hosteria Lago Grey and the Hosteria Las Torres.
Lan Chile is Chile’s major airline carrier, which uses Santiago as it’s hub. Domestic flights within Chile are very good value if one purchases the Lan Chile Airpass, which has a minimum of three travel coupons. To be entitled to the Lan Chile air pass tourists must have flown into South America with a One World Airline carrier. You can also use the airspace for Lan flights in Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.
When is the best time to visit?
Chile is a seasonal destination. Unless you are seeking a skiing vacation, it is best to visit in the summer months of November to March when the weather is milder and the daylight hours much longer. The weather in Chile varies enormously according to location, but the further south one is the better the weather will be in the summer period.