Having traveled a but through Chile (though, admittedly, I missed some places I hear are worth exploring like Valdivia), I thought I’d share what I would consider a good itinerary for those with time (but not boundless time either). I will either expand on some of the items below in other entries or they have been covered already in entries I already made (true for the Atacama and Patagonia bits).
Chile offers a wide range of landscapes due to the fact that it runs a long way in the latitude dimension, therefore, the climates along the country vary significantly. The presence of the Andes clearly has a major effect in the climate as well as provides a great backdrop to many of the places you should see (heck, sometimes it is not just the backdrop but part of what you will explore).
A trip to Chile typically starts of in Santiago, its capital, though one can enter the country from any of the neighboring countries in places like the Atacama, Pucon, the lake district, or Patagonia.
A good itinerary would cover:
– Santiago (a city is a city is a city but I find it worth exploring) (2-4 days). It is not Paris but I love this city for its relative ‘calmness’ and its proximity to the amazing Andes. Good food and lovely neighborhoods make it worth the visit. Ski resorts really close (Valle Nevado being one of them). Wineries nearby too…
– San Pedro de Atacama and nearby sites (4-7 days). If you go from Santiago, it is about a 2-hr flight from Calama and then catch a bus ride at the airport (about 1 hr or so to reach San Pedro).
– Pucón and the Villarica area (3-6 days). A long drive from Santiago (about 8 hours). Nature at its best.
– Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego including Torres del Paine, fjords, glaciers, etc. (8-10 days). Only reasonable way is to fly down from Santiago, about 4 hours. The flight may be direct or may make a stop in Puerto Montt which means you could also spend a few days in the area around Puerto Montt which is beautiful too!
– Valparaíso (add on Viña del Mar and its beaches but they don’t rank up there in my book) (2 days). A little less than an hour and a half’s drive from Santiago, it is charming and colorful.
– Puerto Montt, the Lake District, and Chiloé (4-7 days). bout a two hour flight from Santiago. Endless amount of sights to see: the town of Frutillar, crossing the Andes into Argentina by crossing the lakes, the charming island of Chiloé, etc. Notice the German colonists’ influence in the area. Driving around best but there are other ways to see it.
– Mendoza (OK, this is Argentina but it is almost on Chile and easier to get to from Santiago than from anywhere else!) (2-3 days) A short flight (less than an hour) from Santiago. If you buy the ticket in Chile it is WAY cheaper than if you buy it abroad.
Readers, please feel free to add or provide other perspectives. I, by no means, saw EVERYTHING Chile has to offer!
NOTE: First timers in Chile have to pay an entry fee if they are from certain countries (not many) of which the U.S. is one. BEFORE you get to the immigration line, make sure you go to the line to pay this entry fee. Usually, there is airport staff asking for country of origin at the end of the escalators – they can direct you where you need to go.