Top 7 Places to See When Visiting in Chile

Having traveled a bit through Chile (though, admittedly, I missed some places I hear are worth exploring like Valdivia), I thought I’d share what I would recommend as 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).

Cueva Milodón, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, travel, nature, outdoors, view, amazing, vista, mountains, clouds, snow, greem

View near the Cueva del Milodón near Torres del Paine

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.

Valley of the Moon, Atacama, desert, Chile, desierto, San Pedro, landscape, nature

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

Here are my top 7 places to have in your itinerary to explore wonderful Chile (most of the items below have a hyperlink to posts I wrote about each place with plenty of photos!):

  1. 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!  I went and booked a series of tours at a local agency in Puerto Arenas once I arrived there – great way to do it as they explained what things there were to see and then they connected the dots for me in terms of transport and tickets.  As a solo traveler with only 4-5 days, it was a great way to maximize the visit.  The second time, 5 years later, I focused on hiking the ‘W’ circuit of the Torres del Paine, a 5-day endeavor with Puerto Natales being the starting point.
  2. San Pedro de Atacama and nearby sites in the Atacama desert (4-6 days).  If you go from Santiago, it is about a 2-hr flight to Calama and then catch a bus ride at the airport (about 1 hr or so to reach San Pedro).  The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world which is mind-blowing as it is so close to the Pacific Ocean.  From seeing the salt lakes, the altiplano, the Valley of the Moon, and the geysers to watching the multiple types of flamingos fly by to enjoy what feels like (but really is not) a true frontier town, San Pedro and the vicinity is a spectacular place in this planet.  I only spent a 3-day holiday weekend there while working in Santiago and, while we saw the key sights, I was left wanting more time to chill and explore more.
  3. Puerto Montt, the Lake District, and Chiloé (4-7 days).  About 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.
  4. Pucón and the Villarica area (3-6 days).  A long drive from Santiago (about 8 hours), it showcases nature at its best.  We went white water rafting down the Trancura and stayed at a lakeside hotel that felt like ‘peace’ personified.
  5. Valparaíso (2 days) A little less than an hour and a half’s drive from Santiago, it is charming and colorful.  Explore the various funiculars (“ascensores”) available so people do not have to climb MASSIVE staircases to reach the areas atop the hills of the city.  But do be careful:  some of the areas of town you get to with them are higher crime areas (we were warned by a local as we went up one of the funiculars!).  Some of the funiculars are more storied (some dated from the 1880s!) or peculiar than others so worth researching a little.  Add on next-door Viña del Mar and its beaches to the visit but they don’t rank up there in my book in terms of beaches.
  6. Santiago (2-4 days) A city is a city is a city – but I find it worth exploring.  It is not Paris but I love this city for its relative ‘calmness,’ its livability (I spent most of a year there with work), and its proximity to the amazing Andes.  Good food, and lovely and diverse neighborhoods make it worth the visit.  In the right season, ski resorts are really close (Valle Nevado being one of them) and the beach just an hour and a half away.  Wineries nearby too…  Do I need to say more?
  7. Mendoza (2-3 days minimum) OK, this is Argentina but it is almost in Chile (and seems more Chilean than Argentine in temperament…) and easier to get to from Santiago than from anywhere else!  It is a very 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…

Puerto Natales, Chile, Patagonia, Canon EOS Rebel

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

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!


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Out, Up, and Down in Chile’s Valparaíso

Chile is truly an amazing country.  Nature, in and of itself, offers a myriad different possibilities from the Atacama Desert and the salt lakes in the north to the fjords and glaciers down in Patagonia.  But Chile’s urban areas offer some incredible sights and experiences.  And Valparaíso may take the cake as its character is quite unique.  No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site!

Valparaíso sits by the sea but it does not have the almost unmanageable scale of Rio.  It is old (founded in 1536) but does not have the colonial feel of cities like Old San Juan or central Lima.  And though it is large (the greater Valparaiso metro area is Chile’s second largest) and a center of portuary activity, it is not an economic center like Santiago is.  It faces the ocean but it is not where tourists go for their summer beach vacation – that would be neighboring Viña del Mar.  However, what makes Valpo, as it is referred to in Chile, so great is the charm it has which is a combination of its setting and that it has not been spoilt by becoming a megalopolis.

Out to sea

Valparaíso is surrounded by hills and exploring the city is not just exploring sea-level Valpo but exploring its hills.  But before going up those hills, the best thing to do is to admire Valpo’s lay of the land by taking a boat tour in the harbor.

Valparaiso, Valpo, boat, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

The boat taking us to cruise the harbor

Valparaiso, Valpo, sea lion, marine life, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Sea lion enjoying the summer day

Valparaiso, Valpo, hills, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Looking back at the town and hills of Valpo (notice a funicular in the center of the photo)

Valparaiso, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, National Congress

National Congress (on the left) sits in Valparaiso, not Santiago, the actual capital of Chile

Valparaiso, Valpo, port, ship, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

View across the harbor back towards the center of the city

Up the hills

Valpo is quite famous for the funiculars (or ascensores) that help move people up and down its famous hills.  The oldest funicular was built in 1883 and it is still in service.  Many of these funiculars are an experience onto themselves with very unique stories and some are considered national monuments.

Valparaiso, Valpo, funicular,rail, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

One of Valparaiso’s famous funiculars (Ascensor Cordillera) – we didn’t take this one

When we went, we were advised by some locals to keep an eye out as we went up to the hills as not all areas above are equally safe for people who look like tourists.  We took the advice and went up making sure we were aware of our surroundings.

Valparaiso, stairs, funicular, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

For the sake of the experience, we climbed the stairs…

Valparaiso, Valpo,funicular, cat, rail, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

… and this cat had a similar, if different, approach to going up.

Valparaiso, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

A house perched on one of the hills looks mighty precarious to me… one lil tremor and…

We were rewarded not only with views of the city and sea below, but also by some neat architecture in the hill we visited.

Valparaiso, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

View from one of Valpo’s hills towards some of the other hills (spot the funicular on this pic!)

Valparaiso, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

View from one of Valpo’s hills towards the harbor

Valparaiso, Valpo, architecture, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

House up in one of the hills

Valparaiso, Valpo, architecture, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Another great sample of the neat architecture around

And then back at sea level

All this being said and done, I just enjoyed walking aimlessly through the city.  Here are some of the images from our exploring “sea-level” Valpo.

Valparaiso, Valpo, old payphone, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Charming “booth” for a pay phone

Valparaiso, Valpo, power cables, street scene, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

A mess of utility cables… who knows how many legally set up!

Valparaiso, Valpo, street scene, architecture, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

A side street (Cochrane) that was not as interesting (they deserve to show up on a website too!)

Valparaiso, Valpo, street scene, bus, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Street scene

Valparaiso, Valpo, street scene, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Street scene at Plaza Echaurren

Valparaiso, Valpo, Navy, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, architecture

Navy Building in Plaza Sotomayor

Valparaiso, Valpo, Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, monument, war, history

Monument to the Heroes of Iquique (war memorial) in Plaza Sotomayor

Valparaiso, Valpo,Chile, travel, tourism, charm, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, architecture, dog

Dog laying in the middle of the street (right below where the bus shows)

My favorite souvenir from my year in Chile is a wood carving depicting one of the stairs and funiculars of this charming city.  A great reminder in my every day of this unique town!

Photos of the Week – Sights of Chile

I loved Chile from a 3-month stint there 20 yrs ago before I went back in Dec 2009.  I have written about what I saw, did and felt in other entries in my blog so I won’t repeat myself, but I continue to long to go back even after spending all of 2010 in Chile…  Why?  Well, take a look below and read my other entries about Chile (http://ilivetotravel.me/tag/chile/)

Lagunas Altiplánicas in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile

Near the Lagunas Altiplánicas

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Tourists REALLY enjoying the Torres del Paine scenery

Punta Arenas

In Punta Arenas

North of Puerto Natales in Chile's Patagonia

North of Puerto Natales in Chile’s Patagonia

Near the Salar de Atacama in Chile

Near the Salar de Atacama in the Atacama desert

Fonicular and stairs in Valparaiso, Chile

The hills of Valparaiso! Steps and foniculars!

Skiing in Valle Nevado outside of Santiago, Chile

Skiing in Valle Nevado right outside Santiago

Great summary of the juxtaposition of old and new in Santiago: the Cathedral and a building across the street

Great summary of the juxtaposition of old and new in Santiago: the Cathedral and a building across the street

Scenery from the Cueva del Milodón in the Chilean Patagonia

Scenery from the Cueva del Milodón in the Chilean Patagonia

Saving the best for last... What I really miss is seeing this just about every day I was in Santiago...

Saving the best for last… What I really miss is seeing this just about every day I was in Santiago…

My Short Life in Santiago, Chile

Getting to live in a country other than your own is always a great learning experience and a great way to expand how we understand how different and how similar human being can be.  This entry is more of a trip down memory lane than a travel journal:  talking about my 3 short months living in Santiago, Chile while on assignment for work there.  It was a prolonged visit that made me feel I was a true resident of the city.

Santiago in 1991 was not as developed as it is now; or as I heard it was developed even 10 years ago for that matter.  But it was a city that was bustling with business and construction back then as it re-entered into full-fledged democracy.

I lived in a nice area of town called Providencia where we had been found accommodations for our stay in an “apart-hotel” near Las Condes.  It was a good part of town for us as it had many conveniences nearby and we could walk to work (a 15 minute walk).

Traveling before Cell Phones Were Common…

In 1991, some things about living abroad were not as easy as they are today.  For instance, we had no cell phones (we had one in the office but it was one of those you installed in a car except we had it on top of a table in our conference room; our client was one of the two mobile phone companies in town).  ATMs were not in use back then there (at least those connected to the international networks) so we had to trek to el Centro to go to the local Amex office to have them withdraw money from our bank accounts back in the U.S. and then exchange it for us into local currency.  I remember the lunch hour treks downtown and all that time spent.  One forgets how convenient ATMs are since we are used to them!  Keeping up with family and friends back home meant regular mail (now we call it “snail mail” but back then there was nothing to compare it to) or $2+ per minute phone calls.

OK, Now to Food…

In Santiago, I had fantastic meals.  It has been too long and 1. memory fails and 2. places may no longer exist or be as good.  I clearly recall enjoying a restaurant called El Tallarin Gordo [good eats] in Bellavista (a bohemian type of neighborhood)  (Spanish link: http://restoranteltallaringordo.blogspot.com/2007/05/el-tallarin-gordo.html).  Another one, called Pollo al Cognac [good eats], served a dish of the same name that was fantastic (it was located in Lo Barnechea).  Finally, a more elegant one we enjoyed (on account only!) was Chez Louis.  We also used to go for drinks and lesser meals near the Calle Suecia.  I don’t recall if all the places we went for dancing and hanging out were there but Calle Suecia was at least a frequent place for happy hours.  Back then, salsa was becoming in vogue and I remember being in demand for being Caribbean and able to fake my way through a salsa song… (I really don’t dance it well at all!)

Things We Did…  Besides Work, That Is

As far as sightseeing and the like, the downtown area had very interesting architecture.  The Cerro Santa Lucia also merited a visit.  View from the CerroWe did trek beyond to the Maipo Canyon for a picnic and good food.  Further afield, Viña del Mar was close enough to Santiago for day visits during the weekend, choosing a seaside restaurant to sit in for a few hours while enjoying the food, the people, the view, and perhaps a good book (and a glass of beer or two or three).  Also, wine country is not far from Santiago and is certainly an enjoyable activity (at least for me!).  Unfortunately, back then I was too young and not too savvy about my wine tastes.  There were also a nice beach we liked south of Valparaíso, called Algarrobos, except that the water was FRIGID.  Finally, skiing is only 2 hours away from the city.  I arrived in Chile just as the ski slopes closed but still got to visit Portillo which had an excellent setting up in the Andes.

Being that we were residents for 3 months (I was there with another colleague from the US and a few Argentinians colleagues), we also took to more routine activities like playing racquetball at the local, public “clubs” where you paid a nominal fee for a booked court; or mountain biking in nearby parks.

I would not call Santiago a place one goes for tourism as a destination like Paris, London, etc. (though it can be part of a bigger trip and is, certainly, a great starting point for exploring the wonderful country that is Chile) but it is one of those places where I would enjoying living in again.

Anyone out there have ideas on what is more current in Santiago than my comments dating from 1991?

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