My Top 7 Must-See Best of Chile

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).

Valley of the Moon, Valle de la Luna, Chile, Atacama, desert, desierto, mountain, color, purple, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Valle de la Luna is one of the key sights in the Atacama Desert

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.

Atacama, desert, Chile, vista, view, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

In the Atacama Desert, near the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

A good itinerary would cover these seven places:

–  San Pedro de Atacama and nearby sites (4-7 days)

–  Pucón and the Villarica area (3-6 days)

–  Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego including Torres del Paine, fjords, glaciers, etc. (8-10 days)

–  Santiago (a city is a city is a city but I find it worth exploring) (2-4 days)

–  Valparaíso (add on Viña and its beaches but they don’t rank up there in my book) (2 days)

–  Puerto Montt, the Lake District, and Chiloé (4-7 days)

–  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)

Puerto Natales, Chile, Patagonia, Canon EOS Rebel

A typical house in Puerto Natales, the closest town to Torres del Paine

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.

Comments

  1. You’ve got a great list. I haven’t been to the extreme ends of Chile yet (Atacama or the Torres) but really enjoyed everything in between.

    You’re right about the entry fee, see here for details:
    http://www.joeskitchen.com/chile/2010/02/03/truth-about-chile-reciprocity-fee/

    What do you think about Easter Island? Not as easy to get to but probably a worthy addition to the list.

    • Great, point on Easter Island. I didn’t trek out there for a few reasons (time and cost required for the amount to see was one – I elected Patagonia and Atacama because the trade-off was better for me with those). But I hear it is worthwhile to see!

  2. So helpful! Good point about Santiago… it’s hard to get that much out of a city if we’re pressed on time. I’m thinking we focus more on Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and I didn’t even think about getting to Mendoza from Chile!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello Guys,

    Question for you……
    Here is my itinerary for my Chile stay from 01/17 – 01/27

    I am 31, traveling solo, male, single, love to see culture and experience Chile just like a local. How does my itinerary look? Any suggestions?
    also, I am thinking of going to La Serena and Algarrobo chile. What are your thoughts?
    Any places that I MUST go to being my age etc?
    brentwoodblindco@gmail.com
    any and all replies would be greatly appreciated. thx

    Day 1 – Discovery the City of Santiago Driving and Walking

    Day 2 – Drive North east Santiago all the way to Portillo Ski Resort.

    Day 3 – Drive North by the panamerican high way to Colchagua – Zapallar, Lunch in Restauran Chiringuito or Coirones

    Day 4 – Drive west of Santiago to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar Valparaiso for a night or two, maybe??

    Day 5 – go South of Santiago all the way to Colchagua Valley for wineries

    Day 7 – Driving west of Colchagua valley and check out ” Pichilemu”. not sure if I should stay a night??

    Day 7 – Drive to Maipo Cañon Valley South East of Santiago to National Park El Morado. Staying one night

    Day 8 – not sure

    Late wake up, drive back to Santiago, stop in the town San Jose de Maipo to you have lunch and relax

    • Hi, let me ask you first, are you seeking to stay in that region only? Some of the best sights in Chile at that time of the year are further south (a 2hr plane ride away or 8-10 hr drive). Places like Temuco, Pucon, Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and the island of Chiloé. You could spend 3-4 days down in the Puerto Montt/Puerto Varas area if you could afford traveling down there. It is breathtaking.

      Now, if you stay in the area you mention, your itinerary sounds good. Not sure that I would modify much. Zapallar is a good beach area. 1-2 nights between Viña, Valparaíso and Zapallar is a good amount of time. Beware, January is HIGH season in Viña and beaches north of it like Zapallar. Traffic jams in Viña are HORRIBLE so plan enough time. The very short map distances take 5 times longer than you think to work through! (personal experience!) Also, it may be more expensive at that time of the year. Lots of Chilean, Argentine and maybe Brazilian tourists at that time.

      In Santiago, which I know a little better, I would say Barrio Bellavista would offer good hangouts for someone in your age range and, at least, people watching. Though tourists go there, you also see lots of locals too (beware of pickpockets!). Though there could be many other places that would work, depending on your interests. In Santiago, I would also say go to Los Dominicos to see an old style mission, now a market of artisans and other craft makers with lots of good stuff (not just touristy crafts).

      I can offer more specific suggestions if you have particular questions.

      Beware of not bringing any nuts, fruits, etc. in any luggage you bring. The fines are STEEP! Also, before you get to immigration line, go to the visa line that US citizens (assuming you are from the US) need to go to in order to purchase the pricey Chilean visa. Only after you have it would you get in the immigration line (they will turn you away and you would have to re-do the immigration line if you don’t have the visa!).

      Enjoy Chile!

    • Other comments as I re-read your post…

      La Serena is a good beach area. If you are a beach person, it may be worth the drive north. If you are not, it is a longer detour from the area of the country where Santiago is and I would suggest headed south instead for more magnificent landscapes. HOWEVER, if you are looking more for younger crowds and meeting people your age, that may be more of a scene. I haven’t been to La Serena in MANY years but my recollection of it is that it was a place to be as a 20-something year old (my age then).

      Maipo Canyon is scenic. You can ride horses, etc. along the area. Again, it may depend on your priorities & interests. I am strongly biased to natural scenery, etc and though the Maipo is nice, again, heading south like to Pucon or Pto Montt will give you more memorable images of Chile.

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