With its museums, parks, restaurants, and shopping, Santiago has plenty to keep visitors occupied during their stay. But everyone likes to get out of the city once in a while, and Santiago’s prime location close to the Andes mountains, Chilean wine country, and the ocean, makes it easy to escape for a day. Whether your pleasure is hiking, spending a day at the beach, going wine-tasting, or exploring abandoned mining towns (a niche interest, to be sure, but a worthwhile one!), these six easy day trips from Santiago are great ways to get to know the landscapes, culture, gastronomy, and history of central Chile.
1. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – The Pacific Ocean is a convenient hour and a half from the capital, so if you’re looking for fresh seafood, beautiful harbor views, and a chance to mix beach fun with learning about Chile’s history, check out these two seaside towns. In Vina, one of central Chile’s most famous resort towns, it’s all about the party: spend the day sunning at the beach, visiting the famous Flower Clock, exploring museums like Castillo Wulff and the Fonck Museum, or trying your luck at the casino. Then, grab a colectivo (local taxi) to go ten minutes away to Valparaiso, the jewel of the Pacific and Vina’s gritty, bohemian counterpart. Here, historic funicular elevators carry you up the hills to see the city’s famous houses, which are painted vibrant colors and splashed with some of South America’s best street art. A great city for meandering, explore Cerro Alegre and Concepcion for the best examples of classic Valpo architecture and street art, as well as cafes and shops, and then head to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s quirky home on Cerro Florida. Then finish the day with a meal at one of the city’s many excellent seafood restaurants; the paila marina (seafood stew), chupe de jaiba (crab pie), or the fresh catch of the day (fish or otherwise) are always great picks.
2. Chilean wine country – If you’re a wine lover, lucky you: Santiago is just a quick drive from several of Chile’s finest wine valleys, namely Casablanca and Colchagua. Here, surrounded by undulating mountains and valley floors covered in row upon row of bounteous grapevines, some of the country’s finest wines are grown and made, such as Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Spend a leisurely day visiting local wineries like Clos de Apalta in Colchagua or Bodegas RE in Casablanca, where you’ll learn about the history of winemaking in Chile, as well as each vineyard’s unique wine-making processes, explained on behind-the-scenes tours led by expert vintners. Each tour is then followed by tastings of some of the vineyard’s most exemplary vinos. Salud!
3. Skiing in the Andes – With epic pistes and stunning views across the rooftop of South America, some of the world’s best downhill skiing is found right outside Santiago in the Andes Mountains at Valle Nevado and Portillo ski resorts. Although both resorts have great onsite accommodations and amenities like restaurants and ski in/ski out service, their proximity to Santiago (Portillo is located about 2 hours away, Valle Nevado roughly 90 minutes) makes it super easy for you to stay in the city but spend your days hitting the slopes. Both resorts annually get around 24 inches of snow and have a combined total of 79 runs (groomed and off-piste), as well as lifts, a variety of slopes suited to everyone from beginners to advanced, rental stores, and sites for heli-skiing, snowboarding, and freestyle.
4. Cajon de Maipo – Where can you go hiking, rafting, fly-fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, or just enjoy pure nature within an hour’s drive of Santiago? The answer is Cajon de Maipo. This mountainous valley to the southeast of the city is a paradise of peaks, rivers, lakes, forests, volcanoes, and glaciers, making it the ultimate outdoor adventure playground. Popular activities include treks to the El Morado and San Franciso glaciers, visiting the El Yeso reservoir, relaxing at the Plomo or Morales natural hot springs, rafting on the Maipo river, hiking to the Yeso waterfall, and exploring small towns like Pirque, where some of Chile’s best Cabernet Sauvignon is grown and produced. The area is also famous for its homemade goods, like chocolates, pastries, and empanadas, and is a great place for souvenir shopping thanks to its fine artisan shops.
5.La Campana National Park – For an easy day trek near Santiago that isn’t in the Cordillera, La Campana is the best option for its epic views and wealth of flora and fauna, like the Chilean Wine Palm, an endangered species of palm tree that used to grown all over the country but now only exists in small pockets. Famous for being the site of Cerro La Campana (Bell Mountain) which was scaled by Charles Darwin in 1834, this national park and UNESCO Biosphere is flush with local wildlife including foxes, pumas, birds, chingues (skunks), and butterflies. The hike up features beautiful views of the countryside, plus a chance to visit a nearly hundred-foot tall waterfall and a plaque dedicated to Darwin’s hike. If you want to make it to the summit at more than 6,000 feet above sea level, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, and on clear days, you can see as far as the Pacific Ocean in one direction and Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina in the other.
6. Sewell Mining Town – Known as the City of Stairs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a fascinating glimpse into Chile’s long-standing tradition of copper mining. Founded in 1905 by the Braden Copper Company which owned and operated the El Teniente Copper Mine (the largest in the world), this city, which at its peak housed 15,000 mine workers and their families, was built into the steep slopes of the Andes at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. This made it inaccessible by vehicles, and so the brightly painted buildings of the town, terraced up and down the rugged slope, are all connected via stairways. Closed in the 1970s, it was saved from demolition by the Chilean government and then UNESCO, and now can only be visited on private tours. Located about two and a half hours from Santiago, it’s a bit more of a hike than most other day trips, but is well worth it for the fascinating glimpse it offers into historic Chilean mining towns.
Visiting the driest desert on Earth – San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro lies in the north of Chile, acting as a gateway to the driest desert in the world, the infamous Atacama. In San Pedro and its surrounding there are a lot of activities related with adventures, gastronomy, amazing landscapes and local culture, you simply must go if you’re ever in Chile.
Using San Pedro as a base, you can easily explore the otherworldly valleys, high-altitude lagoons, and ancient hillside ruins. You can also gawp at the night sky – possibly the clearest in the world – by taking an astronomy tour, or simply walking a little away from the light of the town. A starry night here is something you will never forget.
Ideally, you will need 4 days to make the most of your time here. The town is small and easily walkable. There are tour agencies and empanada shops (the best kind). More time will allow you some relaxation and wiggle room, less means you will need to select your activities wisely. Without further ado, here are the best things to see and do around San Pedro de Atacama.
Where to Visit
1. Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a spectacular valley located just 13km from San Pedro.
The information desk at the entrance provides maps of the valley, taking you all the way to Las Tres Marias, three unusual rocky formations that jut out of the desert floor.
The first stop, around 3km from the entrance, is the salt caverns. They’re a winding and narrow cave system, containing unearthly geological structures. You can walk the snaking trail in around 20 minutes and either carry on along the main road, or take a right as you exit the caves and explore a less visited part of the valley.
There are more surreal cliffs and caves, but the further you head in this direction, the less people you will encounter, and the more it begins to feel like you are truly isolated in the desert. The midday sun beats down on your face and neck, no matter which way you look.
The main view that everybody comes to see in the Valley of the Moon is the sunset, particularly from the top of the giant sand dune. The path is sandy but well worn; it shouldn’t pose a problem to anybody. The view from the top makes you understand the logic behind the valley’s name. It was also here where NASA tested the prototype for the Mars rover, due to its strikingly similar terrain.
Watching the sun drop behind the ridge is beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t compete with the red-gold afterglow that engulfs the desert. At the top of the dune, you can walk along the ridge in either direction. The right allows you a view of the sun setting behind the sand dune, and if you turn around, you have the full chain of the Andes mountains, complete with several large volcanoes in the distance. The left has a view of the craggy hills and the interminable desert. The path goes on further, too, meaning there is more space to find your own spot, away from the crowds. This is the busiest time on the sand dune, but the view is remarkable all-day long. A sunset here is one you will remember for the rest of your life.
How to get there Getting to Valle de la Luna can be done in a several ways, depending on your preferences. The best option is to take a tour, which will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and transport you to the entrance, visiting each of the locations with a knowledgeable guide, before dropping you back off at your accommodation. They usually start at 2 or 3 pm so that you can catch the sunset, but an earlier one is possible.
Cycling is easy as well. In your free time you can rent a bike in town and start your trip. The ride from the centre of town to the entrance takes about 25 minutes. However, upon entry into the actual valley, the road becomes rickety and there are steep sections, too. A helmet and visibility jacket are essential for you to take the bike into the valley. I made the mistake of cycling there without either, and was told upon arrival that they would not let me take the bike inside without them.
2. Valle de la Muerte / Valle de la Marte
The Valley of the dead, also known as the Valley of Mars, is closer to San Pedro than the Valley of the Moon. Its surreal landscapes are just as astonishing, but they have the bonus of being less crowded than their bigger and more popular neighbour. That’s not to say that nobody visits the Valley of the Dead, but it doesn’t get as many as the Valley of the Moon.
The entrance is on the right-hand side of the road to Calama, approx 2km from the centre of town.
This valley is the perfect place to sandboard. The Valley of the Moon also has a huge sand dune but you are not allowed to sandboard on it. As well as climbing the dune to ride back down, it is also worth going up for the view alone. The desert rolls out before your eyes, stretching all the way to the jagged Andes mountains, cowboys ride through the rugged valleys, kicking up dust in their wake, and bizarre outcrops defy logic at every turn.
I made the mistake of climbing the dune in a straight line, from the base to the highest point. Don’t make the same mistake as me. I had to use both my hands and my feet, as the surface was almost vertical. My feet sunk into the sand a good 30cm with each step, making the whole ordeal unnecessarily demanding. I had half the desert in my shoes by the time I made it to the top. Luckily, I had enough water to make sure I didn’t pass out from the midday heat. Despite taking the most difficult route (there is a well-trodden track for sandboarders, which takes you up diagonally), it was well worth the effort.
You can also continue on the path further into the valley, which winds its way up to the opposite side of the sand dune, giving you a view of what lies beyond the towering ridge. It looks like an extreme Motocross track, built for giants. I still struggle to get my head around how these valleys were formed.
How to get there
You can travel here using the same methods stated for the Valley of the Moon.
A way to get to the Valley of the Dead is with a tour departing from your hotel. Your van will stick to the main road towards Calama. The sandy hill, directly in front of you as you leave the town, is the entrance. It should not take longer than a few minutes to get there. If you have enough time it is possible to reach very good viewpoints. Take plenty of water and some snacks.
There are tours combined with the Valley of the Moon, if you prefer to visit both at once.
Finally, you can cycle. It’s easy to get here, despite a little up-hill section. Cycling in the actual valley can be quite difficult however, as the sand can be thick. I walked to the top with my bike, then rode down (without peddling), but my wheels jammed in the sand and I flew over my handle bars, almost rolling off the steep road and into the Valley of the Dead below. It would have been a fitting place to die, but it was not to be. You can also cycle from here to Pukara de Quitor in a relatively fast time, as there is a path directly from entrance to entrance.
3. Pukara de Quitor
This fascinating hill-side ruin was once a mighty fortress, perched in a great defensive location, destroying the element of surprise for invaders. You can find it 3km north-west of San Pedro. Like most of the attractions here, there is an entrance fee of a few thousand Pesos. If you have a bike, there is a place to lock it at the entrance.
You can choose between climbing the ridge that runs along the 700-year-old ruins, or the hills in the distance. The hills contain several view points and shelters to rest, as well as a few interesting structures at the top. From the peak, you can look down on the Valley of the Dead to see it from a different perspective. You can also gaze into the valley that leads to Catarpe – an interesting and adventurous bike ride away.
The view from the top of the hills is worth seeing. You see everything from an inferior angle, and whilst you can get a lot closer to the ruins, you can’t go inside them. Having said that, the path is short and is probably worth the 15 minutes it will take to walk.
Near to the entrance of Pukara de Quitor, is another path. Instead of taking the ramp up to the bike storage and ticket office, go the opposite way, sticking to the wall of the rock, and follow the path up to a cave and some amazing archaeological carvings. The cave is pitch black at certain points, so make sure you have a torch handy. Be careful with your head, too, especially for tall people like me. You’ll be bending a lot. On the other side of the cave is a small open area, where you can witness the unusual rock formations up close, and add your own cairn to the masses already there, before heading back the way you came. It might be a good idea to take something to cover your nose and mouth, as you will inhale a lot of dust. Outside, you can marvel at the two giant heads, that have been carved from the cliff face.
How to get there
All the above options apply for here. You can take a tour, walk or cycle.
Arguably the best activity to do here, based on the area’s pristine skies, is look upwards. Within the next year, over 70% of the world’s astronomical observatories will be based here. From this desert, you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud with the naked eye, a foreign galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, over 150,000 light years away. You can also see the Small Magellanic Cloud, fainter and even further away. It’s the farthest visible object in the southern hemisphere, without the aid of telescopes. You can also stare into the heart of our own galaxy. Do you know that strip of cloud-like substance you see in films and the best astrophotography? You can see it with your own eyes.
It takes a brilliant camera to be able to pick any of it up, but luckily for us, almost all astronomy tours will take a group photo on their own cameras. You can ask for one on your own, too.
I went on a tour and couldn’t recommend it enough. They took me on a 2-hour tour, pointing out all the visible constellations of the zodiac and explaining the reasons behind them. They also showed us a short documentary and allowed us to feast on little sausages and snacks.
It obviously helps if you have an experienced guide who can point to Saturn as soon as you ask him and tells you everything about all the stars you see.
I visited in August, the tail-end of their winter, and Saturn was the easiest to see. Early at night, it is possible to spot Mars and Jupiter, too. At different times throughout the year, it’s possible to see all the first six planets with the naked eye.
5. High Plain Lagoons and the Atacama Salt Flats
The high-altitude lakes are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. You have the opportunity to watch pink Flamingos in Chaxa National Reserve, walk on a frozen lake at Red Stone, and see Vicuñas (a relative of llamas and alpacas) in their natural habitat – the hills above 3,000m.
It’s best to start early for these places, as they’re a bit further away than the majority of the attractions. I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride there, catching dreamlike glimpses of snowy peaks, sprawling desert and grazing vicuñas, half-listening to the guide talk about how vicuñas are still hunted for their fur, despite it being illegal.
I woke up when the smooth road swiftly changed to a jolting sandy track. I bounced up and down, bashing flailing limbs off parts of the jeep that I didn’t even know existed. Then I was hit by the cold. Mornings at high altitude aren’t pleasant for the half-dressed. Luckily, I was prepared.
How to get there The best way to go to these places is by taking a tour. It’s worth it. We visited all the aforementioned places, as well as Toconao, a traditional village. The main square has large cacti that grow 1cm per year. These cacti were over 2 metres tall, meaning they were planted in the early 1800s! You can explore the handcraft shops and go souvenir hunting, check out the old church, or taste local homemade ice cream. They have Rica Rica flavour, which is a mint-like herb that grows in the shrubby area of the desert. The driver makes a short stop here, too, for you to harvest your own supply.
Other things to do in the area include:
Tatio Geysers – Expect an early start if you visit these. They’re most active around 4.30 am.
Hot Springs / Aguas Calientes – There are lots of hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. I visited hot springs in Peru and Bolivia – there is nothing quite like bathing in hotter-than-bath water in the middle of the freezing cold Andes. (As Termas Puritama and Tatio Geysers.)
Hot Air Balloon over the Atacama – Ballooning over the Atacama Desert is a breathtaking and unique experience. You will start the tour right before sunrise to see all the colors and rocks of the desert in the morning light. Every tour is different because you don’t know where the wind will take you but you can be sure that you will have an impressive view over the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert. This is definitely a memory you will never forget!
The Flowering Desert – A lot further south from San Pedro, but still in the Atacama, near to La Serena, there is a natural phenomenon taking place in the desert, causing flowers to blossom everywhere. It only happens once per year and this year is supposed to be the largest ever.
How to Budget Generally, San Pedro is slightly more expensive than other towns of similar size in Chile. The customers are predominantly tourists, which means the prices are inflated. It’s possible to find all type of vegetables, meat, fish and local food. There are many options of restaurants, accommodation and activities for your stay in San Pedro de Atacama.
When to Go The Atacama is dry, with clear skies all year round. You can count the number of clouds you see in your time here on one hand – most likely, you won’t need any hands. On the astronomy tour, the guide said that only 30 nights of the year are cloudy, and even then, they’re not terribly intrusive.
Chilean summer runs from December to February, and their winter, from June to August. However, the climate here doesn’t change that much. Due to the altitude (2,408 metres above sea level), San Pedro experiences cold nights all year round, with the lowest being in July and August, at -1° C, and the highest, around 5-6° C, in January. In the day, the winters can reach 20° C, and the summer, 25° C. The altitude makes the days seem hotter though, because the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to cut through before reaching you. Combine this with the unusual clarity of the sky, and basically, you will frazzle.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit is just before winter (northern summer holidays), but after southern summer. April – June is classed as low season here. There will be less people, but never expect it to be empty. San Pedro is a tourist hot spot.
What to Bring
Altitude Sickness Tablets – Depending on your attitude toward altitude, you may wish to bring some medicine. Some people simply don’t agree with being at higher elevations. While 2,408 metres isn’t ridiculously high, some of the activities can go well over 4,000m. You can also buy local remedies for altitude sickness all over town. Coca leaves are helpful for long uphill hikes. Just don’t swallow them.
Vaseline or Lip Balm – This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re in the driest desert in the world. Without it, your lips will crack, bleed and split. I speak from experience.
Sun Lotion – The altitude makes you burn a lot faster than if you were at sea level.
Map App – While there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned paper map, it won’t help you if you don’t know where you are in the first place. MAPS.ME is a good choice as it allows you to download the maps for offline use (like most apps), but it also shows walking trails and footpaths that are mostly invisible on Google Maps, for instance.
Water and Snacks – Again, it’s self-explanatory. You need lots of water in the driest desert on Earth. If you’re stranded, don’t count on rain to save you. Certain areas here receive less than half an inch per year. Some native people have never seen rain in their entire life, particularly closer to Antofagasta. A little snack is helpful, too, as there aren’t any shops outside of the towns.
Camera – This is an unforgettable place, but it doesn’t hurt to keep photos.
This National Park of 150.612 hectares, located in the very south of Chile, in Tierra del Fuego, was only opened in December 2013. In the east, it borders the Argentine Tierra del Fuego National Park; together, the two parks are called Parque para la Paz (“Park for Peace“).
Yendegaia’s breathtaking landscape includes trees like Antarctic beeches, coigüe, canelo and the Chilean firetree notro, extensive grassland, a rugged coast, fast-flowing rivers, sublime mountains, lakes, glaciers, and also thickets and herbs able to resist the windy climate conditions, heavy rainfalls and low temperatures. From June to September, temperatures can get as low as 11 degrees below zero, but in summer they reach up to 24°C.
Besides the 128 vascular plant species, 49 bird species and other animals – some of them in danger of extinction, e.g. the Andean fox, the Southern river otter and the ruddy-headed goose – have to cope with that climate. Other animals living there are leopard seals, elephant seals and kelp gulls.
The aim of the National Park is to conserve biodiversity and to boost tourism in the areas of adventure, outdoor, special interests and ecotourism. As it was only founded in 2013, there aren’t any official trails yet, but you can explore the area via numerous non-official trails starting from any point of the Y-85 road, from Fagnago Lake, or by boat from Puerto Williams. Also, a road from Vicunya to Yendegaia is being built and will probably be finished by 2020.
To get to this 48 km² island belonging to the Bío-Bío Region, you have to take a boat or a helicopter in Tirúa, which is 34 km away and the closest city on land.
The center of the island has been declared a nature reserve by the CONAF thanks to the forests housing the Chilean myrtle, lenga beeches and the Chilean ulmo Olivillo, partly on a small mountain chain reaching up to 390 meters in height. On the “Sendero Camino Nuevo“, a walking trail of 1.5 hours, you can also spot some animals, such as chucao birds, pink-footed shearwaters and the rodent Pacific degu, which is endemic to Isla Mocha and critically endangered. Another animal of interest, although dead since almost two centuries ago, is Mocha Dick, the whale that inspired Herman Melville for his famous novel Moby Dick and which contributed to the more than 100 ship wrecks around Isla Mocha.
On its long sandy beaches, fishers share the coast with windsurfers, sailors and other people simply enjoying an easy walk along the Pacific Ocean.
At 15-30°C, it is more relaxing going there in the summer, as in winter temperatures fluctuate between only 10 and 15°C and there can always be a lot of rain. There aren’t any ATMs either on the island nor in Tirúa, so it is important to bring enough cash. Also, there is only one hotel on the whole island. However, the people there are happy to let tourists stay with them, or you can take your chances and camp somewhere in the wilderness.
3) SALTO DEL INDIO, CURACAUTÍN
In the Araucania Region, 14 km from Curacautín city and at an altitude of 719m, the stunning, 20m high waterfall Salto del Indio awaits you.
Even though the waterfall’s visibility is limited by forests, you can get still amazing views of it from the many viewpoints around. There are also tracks leading down to the very base of the waterfall, which is the intersection of the rivers Indio and Cautín, the first of these being the one that ends there and becomes the Salto del Indio. According to an ancient legend, the waterfall was created when the Indian boy Cayú jumped off into Cautín river because he could not be together with his love Millaray, Princess of Araucania.
The waterfall is part of the 12 hectare Senderos del Indio Park that offers restaurants, huts, a hostel, handicrafts, viewpoints and a mini farm in a fascinating landscape shaped by volcanic sediments from Lonquimay volcano.
4) LOS MOLLES
The small coastal town Los Molles in the Valparaíso Region, only 8km away from the Coquimbo Region, provides the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.
Although the town is more than prepared for tourists, – for example, there are 678 houses, but only 636 inhabitants – it is a calm area with sea view restaurants, white sand beaches, fantastic sunsets, camping possibilities and adventure tourism offers like diving or cove exploring.
Besides tourism, agricultural food, craftmanship, fishing and aquafarming plays a great role in the inhabitants’ lives.
130 of more than 300 plant species in Los Molles are endemic and many of them can be found in the Bioparque Puquén, for example the endangered Pouteria splendens and various cactus, the Alstromeria and water clovers. Also colocolo cats, marine otters and seals live there. Highlights include the paleontological deposits with crustace and and insect fossils, as well as a complex with subterranean caves and a so-called “cold geyser“.
5) CHAÑARAL DE ACEITUNO
Chañaral de Aceituno does not describe a town, but a cove in the municipality of Freirina, Atacama Region, two hours away from Vallenar.
The reason so many people come here is whales. During the summer, up to six different types of whales can be seen from this very spot.
Opposite the cove, you will find Isla Chañaral, part of the CONAF Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve and home to many Humboldt Penguins. At certain times of year, you can also spot different groups of common bottlenose dolphins from here.
6)VENTISQUERO COLGANTE QUEULAT
The name Ventisquero Colgante Queulat describes a “hanging snowdrift” with waterfalls of up to 293m in height, located inside the Queulat National Park in the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region in the south of Chile.
The Park borders the Cisner river to the south and the Lago Rosselot National Reserve to the west. Its area of 1541km² (595 mi²) covers glacier-capped mountains, virgin evergreen forests, lakes, lagoons, two small icefields and even a part of the Puyuhuapi Volcanic Group.
The Valdivian temperate rainforests’ trees include tepú, quila, chilco, nalca, coigüe de Magallanes and lenga. Alongside mammals like the pudú and kodkod, birds such as the chucao tapaculo, the Chilean pigeon, the Magellanic woodpecker, the thorn-tailed rayadito, the yellow-billed pintail and many more live in this area.
7)ISLA MADRE DE DIOS
Just a one-day boat trip from Puerto Natales away, you will find the Madre de Dios Island, located in the Magallanes Region, not too far away from the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. It is part of the Madre de Dios archipelago consisting of five islands, only one of them inhabited.
On the steep coasts of the 1043km² island, which is partly composed of limestone and was only declared a nature reserve in 2008, there are numerous natural caves created by the erosive combination of wind and tides. Some of them have been used by the Kaweskar people, who lived there from 6000 years ago until the 21th century, for different purposes like burial places or temporary camping. In 2006, the Cueva del Pacífico cave was discovered, and in it rock art and cave paintings. Another interesting one is the “Cave of the Whales“, where 2600-3500 year-old whale skeletons were found.
The landscape of the island was created at the same time as Chile’s coastal mountain range and the Andes, therefore it is of igneous rock origin and contains several mountains and native forests with trees like canelo and lenga.
Due to the rainy and cold climate – the average temperature is 9°C – the island can become dangerous, and so far has remained nearly unexplored.
8) CERRO LAS PEINETAS
It was only in 2002 that this over 2000 meter high mountain of the Villarrica National Park in the Araucania Region was climbed for the first time. Since then, not many routes have been detected, but there is a six-hour trekking route and a ten-hour climbing route. However, these activities are only recommended for experienced and physically fit climbers.
The landscape around this mountain of volcanic origin presents the green, rugged valley of Trancura river, which is of glacier origin, where you can find trees like the raulí, the coigüe, the lenga and the araucaria.
To get there, you can either start at Tromen Lake, or at several points on the road to the Argentine border crossing point Mamuil Malal.
9)ALTOS DEL LIRCAY NATIONAL RESERVE
If you are in Santiago and wondering where to go, the 12.163 hectare (46.96 mi²) Altos del Lircay National Reserve is not too far away; only about 270km south in the Maule Region, close to the Andes, and the volcanoes Descabezado Grande and Cerro Azul.
Around the three main rivers in the reserve, Lircay, Blanquillo and Claro – the latter ending with a spectacular waterfall – grow the threatened two species Hualo, seven of the ten species of the Nothofagus trees occurring in Chile and also the ciprés de la Cordillera. One of the reserve’s purposes is to protect rare and threatened animals such as Tricahue parrots, Sapito Hermoso, the reptile Matuasto del Maule, the lizard of Cristián, pudús, pumas, and meadowlarks.
The climate there is characterized by warm periods with some extended dry ones, but there can also be snow on the east side during winter and part of spring. The average temperature is at 14.7°C.
When going there, you will have to announce your visit to the Guardaparques Office at the entrance of the reserve and pay a small fee ($5000 CLP for foreign adults). If you want to stay overnight, it important keep in mind that pets, hunting, fishing and camping at the Enladrillado viewpoint or at lagoons of high altitude are prohibited. You have three options for the campsite: Antahuara (point 1), Los Carpinteros (point 6), Valle el Venado (point 10).
As well as horseback riding, there are several trekking routes ranging from 20 minute over 10 hour to 4 day walks.
10)SALAR DE MARICUNGA
As part of the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park in the Atacama Region, about 160 km northeast of Copiapó and at an altitude of 3750 meters, the Maricunga Salt Flat extends over an area of 80 km².
This salt flat once used to be a lake, but with time the water evaporated and, as it is located between two mountain ranges (Claudio Gay and Domeyko) and does not have any access to the sea, the salt remained in the basin.
77 animal species, 65 fauna species and many flamingoes live in the Salar’s desert climate with an average high of 18.4°C and an average low of 4.5°C. As it can be difficult to get there in winter, the Park is only opened from October until April.
Other places of interest inside the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park are the Santa Rosa Lagoon, also in the north, and the Negro Francisco Lagoon in the south of the Park, which is less high than the north.
In this area close to the Argentine border, there is also Chile’s highest mountain peak, which belongs to the Nevado Ojos del Salado volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. Other volcanoes in the salt flat’s surroundings are the Incahuasi, the San Francisco, the Tres Cruces, and many more.
We started our tour by picking up an American couple and headed towards Valparaiso. Javiera, our guide, told us the rough plan for the day and warned us it would probably rain at some point.
We entered Valparaiso city centre after 1 hour and a half, driving past the congress of Chile, as well as South America’s first ever public library. We parked in one of the large squares, next to South America’s first fire station. Valparaiso is a city with a rich history. It was once the biggest port in South America, and was one of the most important cities when the Spanish first colonised the area. It was actually founded before Santiago, in 1536. Today, it is home to 300,000 people, but the port is no longer the most important in the region, let alone the continent. It’s a source of constant inspiration, being the city with the most graffiti in South America.
It’s one of the most colourful cities I’ve ever been to. Everywhere you turn there is a row of coloured houses, or a majestic mural on the side of an otherwise unimportant half-crumbled building. It’s also made more beautiful by the 44 hills that are found there.
Many of these have lifts, known as funiculars, to the top. Most of them are over 100 years old, and like the majority of the buildings in the city, you can tell. Only 8 of these funiculars actually function, but there is a movement to re-open all the closed ones (more than 20) and return Valparaiso to its former glory.
In Plaza Sotomayor, where we stopped, there is a huge monument in the centre.
This monument is to commemorate the war heroes from the Pacific War, where Chile fought against Peru and Bolivia in the north, in 1879-1883. They won, and managed to sever Bolivia’s access to the sea, taking the Atacama region for Chile. However, during the war, with all of Chile’s forces in the north, Argentina took the opportunity to invade and take control of eastern Patagonia. This is what gives Chile its long snake-like shape.
In 1906, a giant earthquake hit Valparaiso and only 2 buildings were left standing on this square. The architecture here is noticably unique, there are modern office buildings, right next to 18th century buildings in their original decor.
As we walked out of Plaza Sotomayor, Javiera told us how the Starbucks in the square is failing, just as McDonalds did. Valparaiso is one of the only cities in the world where McDonalds failed to make profit and had to be shut down. Yet a 10 minute drive to Viña del Mar and you can find 3 different branches.
As we started to walk further into the colourful city, Javiera explained that sailors painted their houses brightly so that they could find them easily after returning to the port. In the early days, the town would be made from wood and clay and pirates such as Francis Drake would come and burn it to the ground, pillaging it like vikings.
We walked for around two hours from here, around all the graffiti-laden streets. It’s almost as if the entire city is one giant art museum. Everywhere you turn, there is some kind of street art. One of my favourite places is atop the Reina Victoria funicular. There is a hill with painted steps, the ones at the top read “We are not Hippies. We are Happies”.
Towards the end of our walk in the narrow, steep streets, it began to rain. We headed back to the bus and drove up Artillery Hill to have lunch with a view over the docks. It was a bit cloudy, but you could still see the entire bay of Valparaiso.
Having tried Reineta last time I was in Valparaiso, I ordered a good old Salmon with Hungarian sauce. I’m not entirely sure why the sauce was called Hungarian, it was mushroom and prawn, but tasted absolutely amazing. The food was brilliant and the view overlooked the bay.
After we finished, we said goodbye to Valparaiso, and drove to the Emiliana Vineyard, the largest organic vineyard in the world.
By this point, it was raining heavily. Christian, our guide for the vineyard, was very passionate about his job, which made the tour really enjoyable.
He showed us the different things they use to make the compost, including dandelions, Alpaca manure, and other weeds and plants.
We would have seen more but the rain became too strong and the others asked to go back. Inside, we had a wine tasting. I don’t like wine in general, so they gave me a smaller glass of the 4 testers but the Americans really liked it. They bought a bottle afterwards.
For me the cheese was better than the wine. The final cheese – I forgot the name – was like heaven.
After we’d finished we drove back to Santiago. Javiera told us of many places to see in the city and offered to send us more via whatsapp. She also told interesting tales of her adventures around the world. She’s been all around Latin America, Africa and Europe and is full of crazy stories.
We arrived back in Santiago for around 6 and were dropped off. I couldn’t recommend this tour more. It’s made me want to visit Valparaiso again before I leave. The tour was amazing and the city is one of a kind.
At 8.25 in the morning we started our tour to Cajon del Maipo. Everybody was aboard and Felipe, our guide, suggested we get some rest during the drive from the city. He spoke in Spanish first (3 of the passengers were from Argentina, 4 from Brazil, 1 from China, 1 from USA, and me, from England), then repeated in English.
It took around one hour to get to the small café at the entrance to the canyon, where we stopped for morning beverages. We had a small slice of cake each. The group talked amongst themselves, learning about where everybody was from and where they were going.
I was still sleepy-eyed when we entered the café, but during the drive afterwards, the scenery crystallised. We were driving into a verdant valley, mountainous walls rising either side of the road, snowy peaks growing in size, the closer we got. This was Cajon del Maipo. This is what I’d seen in all the photographs beforehand.
The guide spoke excellent English. He was friendly and eager to answer any questions, not just about the tour, but Chile in general. We drove through the small village of San Jose de Maipo, established in 1792. To officially become a village, it had to build a little church, a hospital, and a town hall. It was originally home to the miners of the region, who mined silver and gold. Nowadays, they sell handmade goods, made from the precious minerals.
The guide continued to talk as we passed through the village and the surrounding canyons. The river Maipo that runs through this valley, winding its way through the jagged terrain, is of great importance to Santiago. It provides electricity for the capital, but also acts as a gateway to nature, with lots of choices when it comes to adventure sports. You can kayak and raft on the river, and many Santiago dwellers come here on weekends to get out of the smog of the city. The crisp mountain air refreshes your body and clears your mind.
We continued further into the canyon. We drove past a small train track, with a few stationary trains. Felipe explained they used to take Copper out from the mines, to Santiago. In 1985, they removed most of the track. Also Pinochet, Chile’s old dictator, used to live here. We drove past his old house, but I was taking in so much information, so quickly, that I didn’t actually see it. It’s somewhere in the valley. I’m pretty sure it’s there.
Before I could contemplate what Pinochet had done, we whizzed through another small village, learning about the Almond trees of the area – Cajon del Maipo’s biggest export.
Finally, after almost 2 hours driving, we were able to stretch our legs and take a few pictures. It was possible to see the glacier atop the summit of the mountain – a giant slab of ice, perched precariously on the edge.
The place appeared to be full of large bomb shelters. They looked like something plucked straight from a war film, but Felipe told us that they were occupied between 1953 and 1964 by the builders of the nearby dam. They have curved roofs to deflect wind and allow snow to fall off. However, they don’t have windows, and the builders had to live in freezing cold temperatures for the entirety of the project.
After 20 minutes strolling around here, we drove onto the dam, a short hop down the road, where we left the bus again to explore the beautiful 4 winds corner. It’s not hard to see how it got its name. Before you know which way to turn, you’re blown in several directions, dust stinging your eyes and trapping itself behind your eyelids. Mini tornados swoop over the water in the distance.
A crowd of fellow tourists huddle on the corner, struggling to stand up straight while taking selfies, asking me to take photos of them.
When I was free from my role as an unpaid photographer, I took some photos of my own. The reservoir was just stunning. The snow-tipped mountains enhanced the appearance of the man-made lake.
After a short drive back the way we came, we pulled over to the side of the road, and Felipe told us he’d arranged a picnic. A table was arranged on a little hill, with a trickling waterfall in the rocks behind it. There were olives, little bits of carrot, and bread. The dip for the bread was a mixture of soy sauce, sesame seeds and philadelphia. It was a bizarre mix – one I’d seen another Chilean eat, earlier that week. It wasn’t three things I’d have chosen to put together personally, but it was surprisingly good. Maybe this is eaten everywhere and I’ve just never heard of it, or maybe it’s a modern delicacy of Chile. Either way, it’s definitely worth a try.
There were a few bottles of wine to share between the group, too but I’m not much of a wine drinker.
Chile is an extremely unique land mass. It’s length is stretches down as far as Antarctica with spectacular fjords, great lakes, impressive mountains and glorious glaciers. While the north extends to the Atacama desert, one of the driest desert locations in the world. The two ends could not be more different.
These unusual extremities makes Chile a place of spectacular beauty. So much so that much of this thin strip of land is now protected as National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so the rich biodiversity of the land is able to survive. It also means that visitors can enjoy these famous landscapes knowing they will be protected and managed.
To really discover Chile’s truly diverse terrains, be sure to visit these top five beautiful national parks in Chile.
Rapa Nui National Park
More commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui is the local name for the island that sits out in Chile’s Pacific coastline. The island is known for its ancient Moai statues, which were built by islanders of Polynesian origin who settled on the island in around 300 AD. Between the 10th and the 16th centuries, the islanders competed in building and erecting enormous statues and shrines and today there are around 900 statues still remaining. This unique cultural landscape is not only a prized national park but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fascinating cultural significance.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is probably one of the best-known National Parks in Chile, as well as one of the largest in size, the park is also the third most visited national park in Chile, with over 250,000 visitors every year. It’s southerly location contributes to its impressive array of ice fields, fjords and glaciers that make up its landscape. The natural beauty on offer in the park is astonishing, with waterfalls, lakes and lagoons adding to serene blueness of this part of Chile. The region is best known for its Cordillera Paine Mountain Range, which is made up of rose-coloured granite and reaches 3,000 metres high. You can access the park from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, and combine your visit the stunning nearby Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
Juan Fernandez Archipelago
The magnificent volcanic islands that make up the Juan Fernandez Archipelago are home to some of the most unique species in the world. The islands have unusual and rare creatures that are not normally found in conditions such as this, including woodpeckers, firecrowns and marsupials. Many of the creatures living on the islands are at serious risk of extinction, and as such the park has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977. The islands’ landscape are just as extraordinary with deep ravines and volcanic peaks topped with snow – ideal for exploring.
Located between Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso, La Campana is one of the country’s smallest national parks, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sights. Easily accessible from one of the two nearby cities, the national park is home to Cerro la Campana, a 6,000-foot-high mountain that Charles Darwin climbed on one of his visits to the continent. From the top of the mountain you can enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and Olume Valley – a view that is well-worth the climb.
Chiloé is Chile’s most northerly archipelago, and is home to some of the region’s most noteworthy architecture. This island national park is filled with a number of wooden churches, many of which are protected under UNESCO World Heritage. The park is also dominated by the many Valdivian forests, known for the pudu (small deer) and Darwin’s fox. From the coast here you can also spot colonies of sea lions, flamingos and pgymy blue whales. Its wet weather and distinct forests give this park a very different feeling from all of the other national parks in South America – a distinctive landscape has been the setting for many myths, legends and stories of witchcraft over the centuries.
Experience the unique terrain of the Atacama desert like the ancient people of the Atacama did on the Ancestral Caravan tour. Trek the desert using traditional Andean llamas alongside local communities and indigenous people sharing their customs and culture along the way. The tour is a great way to learn more about the traditional cultures of the desert and connect with local people.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
See the desert from another angle on a magical hot air balloon ride above the Atacama. Eastern Safari’s “Balloons Over Atacama” offers daily flights over the Atacama Desert and close to San Pedro de Atacama, with views of the endless salt flats, impressive volcanoes and ancient rock formations. Every ride can hold up to 16 passengers, and a premium option is also available, which includes a toast of sparkling wine at the end and a photo of the flight.
Half Day Fishing Tour of Easter Island
Explore Easter Island and learn more about the native tradition of fishing and cooking on this half day tour of the island. With the help of a native Easter Islander fisherman, you will learn the core techniques behind fishing on the island and then fish in its waters yourself. The catch of the day is then prepared and cooked over the island’s natural hot volcanic rocks to create the traditional dish “Tuni Ahi”, which is served on banana leaves.
Horseback riding in Easter Island
Travelling the island on horseback is one of the best ways to see the hidden natural beauty of the region and reduce your carbon footprint. A typical Rapa Nui experience takes you to some of the more remote areas of the island that can only be reached by taking this traditional mode of transport. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to make the journey and travel into the past, it’s a peaceful and engaging experience that takes all-levels of riders through regions such as Rano Raraku, Orongo and Mount Terevaka.
Santiago and Central Chile
Penguin Watching Cachagua Tour
Leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago and head to the beautiful beaches and islands off the villages of Cachagua and Zapallar. Known for their delicious seafood and stunning shoreline, the villages offer access to the remote and protected Humboldt Island, also known as Penguin’s Island. Enjoy the magical Chilean countryside on route to the coast, made up of Avocado farms and vineyards, and a boat ride to greet the colony of penguins located on Humboldt Island. There will also be time to swim and sunbathe at hidden bays and sample local seafood.
Snow Hike tour from Santiago
Put on your snow shoes and trek through the heart of the Andes, on this expertly-led hiking experience like now other. Led by an expert mountaineer guide the trek leaves from Santiago to the valley of Cajon del Maipo. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains ranges and snow-topped peaks as you climb, and when you finally reach Aguas Penimavida. Knowledgable local guides will enhance the experience with stories of the mountain ranges and volcanoes before heading back down to the town of San Jose del Maipo, and a delicious Chilean empanada. Chilean Lake District
Alerce Andino National Park
The Southern Chilean Lake District is one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, and this tour takes you to one of the region’s most prized natural emblems, the ancient Alerce tree. The tree was made a national monument in 1976 and is a massive 45 meters high and 4 meters wide. Located in the Alerce Andino National Park, this tour takes you through ancients forests and offers views of the Calbuco volcano and the Andean-Patagonia mountain range. Take on three beautiful trails, including a wet waterfall hike and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Located in the Los Lagos region of Chile, the Chiloe Island tour departs from Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt. Take the ferry across the Pacific to the island, which is the fifth largest island in South America. Visit the island’s oldest village, Chacao, and its distinctive UNESCO World Heritage Listed native timber churches and architecture, dating back to 1567. The tour also includes a visit to Castro, the capital and third oldest city in all of Chile. Visitors will have a chance to shop in the towns and city and sample food at a typical Chiloe Island restaurant.
Whale watching from Punta Arenas
Journey through the first ever Marine National Park in Chile, Francisco Coloane, and spot some of the most majestic creatures in the world, humpback whales. Get up-close to the marvellous creatures surrounded by impressive untouched landscape, including hanging glaciers on the Darwin mountain range, as you journey by boat through the park and regions around it. There will also be a chance to spot some of the other inhabitants of the park, including Magellan penguins, sea lions, austral dolphins, albatross and sea elephants.
Ice Hike at Glacier Grey
There is nothing quite as impressive as walking on a glacier. With Big Foot Patagonia you can ice hike on Glacier Grey, and be on the only tourists there! With the assistance of an experienced guide, you will be supplied with the relevant equipment to climb and take the 2.5 hour trek through cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels of the pristine Grey Glacier. Visitors with knee problems should consult guides before booking.
Chile is home to some of the world’s greatest wine regions. With cool and warm climates across hilly, lush mountains and valleys, the lands of Chile offer some of the most fertile fields in South America for growing wine.
Winemaking is a historic pursuit in the country, and some Chilean wineries date back to the 16th century, but did you know that Chile is also one of the world’s most innovative and environmentally-conscious winemakers?
The country is not only home to some of the oldest wineries in South America but is also leading the way in sustainable, organic wines – a creation that is equally as delicious but far less destructive.
Here are the top organic wineries in Chile you must visit:
Founded in 1986 by the Guillsasti family, the Emiliana Vineyards specialise in creating organically grown and eco-friendly wine. In fact, the company are so invested in making organic wine that they became the first ever winery in South America to create a biodynamic wine. Of the vineyard’s 2,812 acres, around 1,470 acres are fully organic and biodynamic while the rest is in transition and is currently an ISO 14.001-certified vineyard. Every process of their award-winning winemaking is overseen by Alvaro Espinoza, one of the world’s authorities on organic and eco-balanced winemaking.
All three estates at Lapostolle received fully organic status in 2011 after years of working to achieve organic vineyard status. This means every grape grown and used to make wine at Lapostolle is made with 100% organic grapes – that is no pesticides, herbicides, regulators, GM organisms or artificial fertilizers are used. Lapostolle uses composting, bees and recycling to help produce its vines and has released its very first organic wine: Cuvee Alexandre Syrah Los Kuras 2009.
Viña Miraflores Del Maipo
Every wine at Viña Miraflores Del Maipo is handcrafted with an inherent respect for the environment and surroundings of beautiful Chile. Located in the Maipo River Valley, the oldest wine producing zone in all of Chile, Viña Miraflores Del Maipo has developed an organic know-how and produces two unique varieties of wine – Sol y Viento and Gil Ferrer. Every wine is created with utmost care and respect for the natural culture of Chile in a bid to protect and preserve the surroundings, and the company also focus on good ethics and offer job security for all of their workers.
Located in the region of Valparaiso in Chile, Cono Sur is one of the leading organic wine producers in the country and has earned an international reputation for its wine. The company take sustainability very seriously, and have optimized their vineyard management to reduce their carbon footprint and make environmentally-friendly wines. The workers navigate the vineyard on pedal bicycles and use natural alternatives to protect the grapes from disease and pests. Cono Sur was the first winery in South America to received a double ISO certification for quality assurance and environmental policies and the first winery in the world to receive a CarbonNeutral delivery status. Try the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauv/Carmenere organic wines.
Established in 1995, the award-winning organic winery Nativa was created as a strand of the larger Vina Carmen – one of Chile’s most recognised historic wineries. In 1999, the Nativa wines made history and became the first organic Chilean wine to be exported. Historically, the company worked closely with organic grape producers until 2008 when they received their very first organic grape harvest, and have been growing their own organic grapes ever since.
All human communities have developed and grown expressions and traditions related to the meeting between the man and the divine throughout history. As a remaining memory of the fusion between the traditions and practices of the indigenous populations and the evangelization in the time of the Spanish Contest (16th century); colorful big festivities, ceremonial costumes, music, dance and deep faith, still remain all along Chile, displaying characteristic aspects of our popular Catholicism.
A large list of celebrations take place all over the country, on different periods and moments of the year. Here I will let you know about some festivities from the north of Chile:
“FIESTA DE LA VIRGEN DEL CARMEN DE LA TIRANA”- 16th of July:
I the middle of pampa del Tamarugal takes place the “Fiesta de la Tirana”, one of the most important multicultural celebrations held in the north of the country, that turn the small town into a colorful carnival with a runway of masks, music, rituals and dances.
As a result of a large history, cultural elements typical from the Chilean and Peruvian population, Atacama and Aymara people, afrodescendents, Chinese and European among others who have lived in this zone throughout the years, come together and get mixed here.
The name of the “Tirana” is based on a local legend that has as the protagonist the Spanish conqueror Diego de Almagro and the daughter of a priest, Ñusta, who fought to defend her territory, receiving the name of “Tirana del Tamarugal” by her enemies.
Where: Locality of la Tirana, 90km away from Iquique, in the Tarapaca Region. Arriving to the Pozo Almonte town (11km away from La Tirana) there is regular and fluid public transportation during the time of the festivity.
“FIESTA GRANDE DE LA VIRGEN DE ANDACOLLO”, the ‘Queen of copper and gold’- 26th of December:
With a history that goes back to the time of the conquest of our country, in the miner town of Andacollo, located in the Coquimbo Region, is commemorated the coronation of the Virgen de Andacollo or the “Chinita” image, with a gold crown that represents the Vatican’s recognition of the significant devotion of their believers and the miracles that she had realized to that moment. The love and faith of her believers is demonstrated with the dances of Chinos, Turbantes and Danzantes, performed by comparsas and local confraternities that take the lead of the celebration.
Where: Locality of Andacollo, 56kn in the southeast of La Serena.
“FIESTA GRANDE DE LA VIRGEN DE LAS PEÑAS”- First Sunday of October:
With confusing written records and altiplanic legends, we suppose that this pilgrimage and place of devotion could be almost 200 years old.
Chamarcusiño, is the start point sector of 20km of pilgrimage that go to the Virgen de las Peñas Temple, a sculpture carved in rock which is more than 1 meter and a half tall. The route of adverse conditions attracts more than 40.000 wayfarers, among them religious dance companies, Bolivians, Peruvians and Chileans, who each year go to render thanks at the rhythm of the Andean wind instruments, for the favors granted or to ask the Virgin for a favor.
Where: 95km to the interior of Arica, and more than 1.200 meters high, next to the San José river. The route to arrive at the sanctuary goes along the Azapa valley, to Chamarcusiño, where is located the vehicular whereabouts. Quebrada de Livilcar (archeologic route), Arica Region and Parinacota.
These celebrations of the Catholic calendar, are not just the place and moment of connection of the man with the gods, they are also witness of our territory’s history.
The dates may vary in some cases each year, so it’s recommended to check them before coming.