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Chile means nature as it should be—wide open, untamed, untroubled by human interference. It is a slender ribbon of geography, on average only 108 miles wide, but that ribbon runs for some 2,700 miles, the distance from San Francisco to New York. And its coastline is even longer, at 3,100 miles. In the narrow territory between its borders, just about every kind of landscape imaginable unfolds: pristine lakes in verdant valleys … glittering glaciers rising up mountain slopes …plunging fjords …restless volcanos …and sweeping desert.
With such natural splendor, it is no wonder that the Spanish coveted the land, seizing much of the region for itself in 1540. Until then, the land had been shared by Incas in the north and the Araucanians in the south. Spain tried to tamp down local culture and import its own, but the independent Chilean spirit eventually triumphed, and the nation freed itself from colonial rule in 1810. That doesn’t mean its path was easy: the dictatorship of Pinochet was brutal, including thousands of “disappearances.”
Free elections in 1989 returned power to the people and Chilean democracy has yielded a prosperous economy and one of the highest literacy rates on earth. Today, Chile’s quality of life is renowned. Whether horse riding on the pampas, sipping red wine at one of the countless vineyards, or hiking the same hills that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once escaped into, Chileans revel in the bounty of their land and embrace a slow pace of life that lets them enjoy it best.
Click on map markers below to view information about top Chile experiences
Torres del Paine
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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations
There is no denying that Santiago is the heart of Chile: more than 40% of the nation’s population live right here. It’s a city where centuries of tradition are carried on by its modern citizens. In the Plaza de Armas, at the center of the city, the 18th century Cathedral of Santiago presides grandly over the tree-lined square where café tables bustle with chess players, just as they have for generations. The local fish market, Mercado Central, boasts a truly timeless feel, with tiny stalls selling the catch of the day. But Santiago is not only about the past. This decade has seen a stunning boom in development, with new green spaces, cultural centers, and museums featuring contemporary and modern art. To visit today is to find Santiago not resting on its elegant history, but leaning forward to the future.
Soar high above Santiago to get a bird's eye view of this South American city.
Soaring 6500 feet over the Patagonian steppe, a trio of granite peaks known as Torres del Paine (Blue Towers) anchors an epic national park of the same name. Once a sprawling landscape of sheep farms, it was declared a national park by Chile in 1959, after sharp-eyed conservators recognized its pristine beauty and natural diversity. Over the course of its 935-square-mile footprint, the landscape evolves from grasslands to dense forest to glacier-cut fjords and valleys. Even the weather is constantly shifting: Chilenos like to say you can experience all four seasons in a single day here. Home to ostrich-like ñandús, Andean condors, flamingos, and guanacos, Torres del Paine is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as well. For nature lovers, wildlife spotters, and hiking enthusiasts alike, it is the pinnacle of what Chile has to offer.
From Darwin to Drake, the crystalline fjords of Chile have dazzled many of the world’s greatest explorers. With more fjords than all of Scandinavia, Chile is a dreamscape where sea life and stunning landscapes unfold around every bend. Peale’s dolphins leap from icy waters, as petrels, cormorants and albatrosses wing their way overhead. But the fauna can scarcely complete with the eye-catching glaciers and ice floes. From the Asia Fjord and the glowing blue beauty of the El Brujo glacier, to Glacier Alley, home to a half dozen ice shelfs named for European countries, visitors are surrounded by icy splendor. Some even say that navigating these channels by boat is like sailing through a light show, as the density of ice and moisture yield ever-shifting reflections. Beyond the fjords lies Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific meet thunderously, and the entrance to the Drake Passage, an epic crossing route to Antarctica.
How dry is the Atacama Desert? When locals joke that it never rains here, they’re only somewhat kidding. The average annual rainfall is roughly one third of one inch. With mountain ranges, including the Andes, ringing the region, no moisture blows in from other parts of Chile, yielding a stunningly alien landscape nearly void of vegetation. In fact, it’s such a rarity on earth (one of the few locales that truly live up to the description “otherworldly”) that NASA uses it to study what life might be like on Mars, testing “Martian rover” vehicles here. The nearest water is the salt lake to the south, Laguna Chaxa, known for its flamingos, three breeds of which flock here to eat and rest. But perhaps the most memorable vista is the Salar de Atacama, where tricks of light and geography can yield the impression of walking on a vast mirror.
Get lost in the vast and diverse landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama
Sitting on the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas has been the city that launched a thousand adventures, the jumping off point for explorations of Antarctica. The expeditionary spirit is so key to Punta Arenas that its central Plaza de Armas is built around a statue of Magellan. Over the centuries, the city’s personality has changed with shifts in industry. Once a wool-trade capital, it boasts elegant mansions from the late 19th century and early 20th; today, the petrochemical industry is drawing younger workers who love leisure activities like hiking and camping. The friendly and welcoming local crowd often socialize at the seaport by seeing Antarctic cruises off, perhaps toasting the adventurous with pints from Austral Brewery, the southernmost in the world.
2,000 miles off the coast of Chile, one of the world’s most enduring mysteries remains etched in stone. At Easter Island, giant statues known as Moai were carved from volcanic rock. 900 of the monoliths, which can rise up to 30 feet and took an estimated five or six years to carve, have been discovered on the island. Though their purpose is a mystery, their makers, the Rapa Nui, are known to us now as Polynesians whose roots go all the way to Taiwan. While exploring the Rano Kao Volcano, with its crater boasting a glittering lake next to a traditional ceremonial center, visitors may catch glimpses of the ancient culture and the landscape in which they lived. But as for the mysterious Moai, the island still keeps that secret.
Discover the ancient secrets behind Moai—the carved volcanic statues of Easter Island.
Watch this video/film showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable
Absorb Chile's wilderness surrounded by the snow-capped mountains and mirrored lakes of Tierra del Fuego.
In Chile, A Search for Remnants of Revolt
Hunt for communist propaganda from Chile's 1973 military coup.
This film was first published on BBC.com Travel. Produced by Aric S. Queen.
Great Historic Sites: Easter Island
Produced by Ian Sciacaluga, Pilot Productions
South America: The Beautiful Ride
Discover the diverse landscapes from desert to glacier, in a serene virtual tour of Chile.
Produced by Jason Spafford
Immerse yourself in Chile with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
by A. C. Doyle
The chilly waters of the South Pacific host some of the world’s most robust fisheries. Case in point: The Chilean Dungeness rock crab (jaiba) is the prize catch of the most stalwart fishermen. Naturally sweet and tender, often flash-frozen right onboard the ships, jaiba is one of Chile’s favorite menu items. In Santiago, at the Mercado Central or Vina del Mar, and in the Santa Colonia and Bellavista districts, or anywhere along the waterfront in Valparaiso, you will see both large earthenware pomaires and individual-sized ramekins steaming on a great many tabletops. They are filled to the brim with pastel de jaiba, a delicious crab and cheese casserole.
I find the American fetish for drenching almost anything in cheese is often a mistake, and particularly so when it comes to seafood. But in this instance, the combination is nothing short of divine. Wash it down with an oaky Chilean Chardonnay, or a crisp Pilsner.
On the other side of the Andes, we tend to think first of Argentina’s beef, as well we should. With all due respect to the marketing wizards who trademarked Japanese Kobe beef, Argentinian beef is the finest in the world. Both the genetic stock and the pampas grass conspire to produce absolutely superb cuts of steak. Unfortunately, Argentinian beef is virtually impossible to find stateside (some say due to protectionist U.S. trade practices). Which suggests that when you visit Argentina, you should order steak as frequently as possible. I highly recommend the shoulder-eye, a delicious cut that is uncommon here in the north.
But one Argentine beef specialty that can be easily recreated with Oklahoma or Texas beef is guiso argentino, essentially veal or beef stew with rice, fruits, and sweet potatoes (as well as the typical stew ingredients—including onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, etc.). Our image of Chile and Argentina is of sunny Latin enclaves way down south, so it’s easy to forget that Buenos Aires can get as cold as the 40s and even 30s in wintery July, and Patagonia much colder than that. So guiso is hearty comfort fare for those chilly late afternoons and evenings, and it is typically served as the main dish, rather than as an appetizer soup.
Remember that with any stew, there is a trade-off between its redolence and the tenderness of the meat versus the consistency of the fruits and vegetables. The longer you let it simmer, the more the starches will break down into a gooey plasma. Accordingly, add the fresh fruit later during the stewing process, if you want it to maintain any snap. The recipe on the next page calls for apricots or peaches, but you can experiment with apples, pears, plums, cherries, figs, dates, or whatever you like. And pork will work as well as beef or veal. Serve with a fruity Malbec or Grenache.
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
December to February is Chile’s summertime. The weather across the country is extremely pleasant, with temperatures averaging between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, with low humidity. With peak tourism season in full swing, your travel dollars will not go as far. The country is awash in cultural activity, so for a truly immersive experience, this is the time to visit.
Santiago is flooded in Latin energy as the crowds bring more vendors, arts, and cultural offerings to the fore. This is the time for experiencing all Chile has to offer in food, performance, and activities. In Ancud, a sleepy seaside town with a picturesque marina, the week-long Semana Ancuditana fills the streets with games and competitions, and is a particularly great time to participate in activities among Chileans.
Between December and February, Torres del Paine sees almost 16 hours of sunlight a day, revealing the beauty of its expansive plains and craggy mountains for longer stretches of time. Temperatures are also comfortable, meaning robust adventures in this area are more manageable.
With the Tapati Festival, this is the best time of year to visit Easter Island. Apart from the festival, you can explore the prodigious Moai statues—all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site—along with great hiking around the verdant Terevaka Volcano on the northern edge of the island.
Watch this film to discover more about Chile
Walking around Santiago, you’ll experience streets covered in red and orange foliage, much like fall in New England. Especially in Patagonia, the sloping foothills are covered in the bright hues of autumn. Temperatures get brisk in nighttime, reaching lows of 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The crisp air makes great conditions for wine-lovers to sit inside and sample Chilean red wine—the country is well-known for its luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and spicy Carménère varietals. Many vineyards around the country will be open for tastings, so take advantage of opportunities to expand your palate.
During Santa Semana, from Palm Sunday to Easter, Santiago becomes a veritable ghost town as Chileans vacation all over the country and elsewhere. Many businesses are closed during this week.
Walking through the wine vineyards of Chile reveals breathtaking vistas of brilliant autumnal colors. The crunch of leaves underfoot and breaths of crisp air—especially in higher elevations—will make you almost forget you’re in South America.
Patagonia is also beautiful this time of year, often considered one of the best areas for fall foliage. Trekking along the region’s foothills and taking in its wide expanses will be like walking through a painting.
For skiers, Chile is a paradise from June to August. August is the most popular month as powder reserves are refreshed with steady snowfall. Winter sports enthusiasts—from skiers to snowboarders, and everything in between—are drawn to the desirable slopes and picturesque mountain resorts of the Andes Mountains.
The most popular Andes resorts—located right outside of Santiago—will be swarmed with visitors, and for good reason. Portillo in eastern Chile, at the southern tip of La Laguna del Inca o del Portillo, overlooks a dramatic view of mountains surrounding the calm azure waters of the lake. El Colorado, just 36 miles from the city’s limits, features the over 11,000-foot peak Cerro Embudo. Valle Nevado features the largest skiable surface in South America, meaning you’ll still feel isolated among the larger crowds.
In the lowlands, rains have driven out the tourists. This means lower-elevation cities such as Valparaíso, Calama, and San Pedro will be less crowded. Here, your travel dollar will go further.
The small village of Tirana—with approximately 1,200 residents—attracts over 200,000 people a year from around South America for the annual Fiesta de La Tirana. Boisterous parades with throngs of people fill the streets, turning the once small town into a party of throbbing energy. Bands composed of pounding drums and tinny percussion instruments are accompanied by trumpets to create rhythmic, distinctly South American melodies.
One of the main features of the festival is the La Diablada, or the “Dance of the Devil.” Men in haunting demon masks, embroidered capes, and regal costumes—as well as any number of cartoonish and comedic characters—are accompanied by women and children in indigenous dress. Believed to exorcise demons in the community, the ornate dance they perform incorporates native and European styles, and often goes well into the night. You’ll also see Tirana’s streets filled with food and craft vendors selling wares from indigenous artisans for the several days of the festival.
The Indigenous New Year celebration in June is also a great time to dive into local culture. Adorned in the brilliant colors of Mapuche traditional garb, ancient religious rites give thanks for the harvest, and sacred dance and music fills the air. The festivities end with a call for rest in the new year.
With tourism season not yet in full swing—along with glorious temperatures ranging from 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit—September to November is a veritable sweet-spot for visiting Chile. The comfortable climate makes exploring areas such as the Atacama Desert in the north, and Torres del Paine to the south, visually stunning adventures.
Considered springtime in South America, blooms start blanketing vast expanses of the country. In the Atacama, miles of purple and red flowers stretch as far as the eye can see every five to seven years. Here, endemic seeds and bulbs wait for optimal growing conditions, such as during El Niño.
In Santiago, the hillsides surrounding the city are painted with dramatic swaths of orange and red blooms, known locally as the city’s “Gold and Silver Spring.”
The Lake District in southern Chile from September to November is a place of arresting beauty. With volcanoes abutting crystal-clear lakes, and flower blooms blanketing the foothills of the Andes, the region becomes a paradise of color.
The Fiestas Patrias brings all forms of Chilean culture together, especially in Santiago. From the bucking broncos of the city’s frenetic rodeos, to the smoky air of a local fonda—a place where barbeque and beverages are sold during the celebration—the capital is awash in patriotic spirit.
Uncover the many faces of Valparaiso—Chile's forgotten port city.
Produced by Daniel Katanella
Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—includingactivity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more
Chart your course across Argentina and Chile—from bustling Buenos Aires to Patagonia's shimmering glaciers.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Chile
5 nights from only $2595
4 nights from only $1495
Small Group Adventure
Days in Chile
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls • Argentina: Buenos Aires, El Calafate • Chile: Torres del Paine National Park, 3-night Chilean Fjords Cruise, Santiago
5 nights from only $2395
7 nights from only $1995
Taker a closer look at what you'll encounter on your journey through Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Chile
Argentina: Buenos Aires, Perito Moreno Glacier, Ushuaia • Chile: Torres del Paine, Beagle Channel, Glacier Alley, Cape Horn, 4-night Chilean Fjord Cruise
4 nights from only $1445
5 nights from only $2695
Small Group Adventure
Days in Chile
Chile: Santiago, Valparaiso, San Pedro de Atacama • Argentina: Purmamarca, Salta, Cachi, Cafayate, Buenos Aires
6 nights from only $2195
Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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