“He who does not know the Chilean forests, does not know the planet,” poet Pablo Neruda once said of his homeland.
And after visiting the country’s rich wilderness for myself, I’d be inclined to agree.
First of all, you have the beauty of Chile’s parklands.
Then there are its high-altitude deserts, packed full of geysers, volcanoes and lagoons.
Oh, and the beaches!
And let’s not forget the lakes, glaciers and snowcapped peaks of Patagonia. Not to mention the waterways of the remote southern fjords.
You see, Chile is so much more than just a few forests. The country is chock full of beautiful, diverse places.
Join me on a journey to discover the best.
Why you should travel to Chile
Most come to Chile to relish in its unbridled naturaleza (nature). Within its borders, an array of different topographies encompass all aspects of the natural world.
Adventure opportunities abound within Chile. Activities such as hiking, cycling, whitewater rafting and horseback riding provide ample excuse to get outside and explore in an exhilarating way.
Many visitors also appreciate Chile’s strong economy and Western vibe. Excellent roads and low crime are the norm, while modern creature comforts are never far away.
Of course, an abundance of fresh seafood and top-shelf vino (wine) only add to the appeal.
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How to prepare for a trip to Chile
Pack for the climate and season
Stretching over 2,653 miles (4,270 km), Chile covers a variety of distinct climatic zones. Many regions can be comfortably explored all year.
Those venturing south to hike Patagonia, however, should avoid the colder months of June to August. In either case, be sure to pack accordingly.
Bring plenty of money
Chile’s economy is booming.
And for the traveler, that means daily expenditure is high. Expect to burn through at least 50 USD per day as a budget backpacker, and well over 100 if you prefer to travel mid-range.
ATMs are available everywhere, although most charge hefty withdrawal fees. So it’s cheaper to take out large sums at once.
Ensure you don’t need a visa
Travelers from many countries receive a 90-day tourist visa for free on arrival. Australians landing in Santiago must fork out 158 AUD as a reciprocal fee.
Falling in love with Chile? It’s possible to stick around longer if you obtain an adequate employment visa.
Learn Spanish before you go
Despite enjoying a high level of education, English is seldom spoken in Chile.
Try FluentU free for 15 days to beef up your Spanish skills. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, news broadcasts and sports programs—and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
The best thing about FluentU? It’s available for offline use! So if you want to keep learning in Chile, you can keep watching fun videos even while hiking in Patagonia or sipping wine in a local vineyard.
Despite how hard it may seem, don’t get discouraged by the locals’ fast-paced dialect, which is famous for utilizing an obscene amount of slang.
The 9 Most Beautiful Places in Chile for Your Travel Itinerary
The Atacama Desert
Chile’s desolate Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar region on earth. In fact, the coastal town of Arica once went over 15 years without a single drop of rain.
But it’s the high-altitude plains that enchant travelers with surreal alienesque panoramas.
Make a beeline for San Pedro de Atacama, a thriving tourist town nestled on the doorstep of some truly bizarre surroundings.
A short bus or bicycle ride will take you to the lunar-like landscapes of La Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), the super salty and buoyant Cejar Lagoon and the blindingly white expanse of the Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats).
Further afield, daytrippers can marvel at the El Tatio Geyser, which spurts huge clouds of piping hot steam dozens of feet into the air.
The Elqui Valley
Upon heading south into the foothills of the Andes, the terrain transforms into a lush and vegetative affair. The fertile Elqui Valley is where Chile produces its signature spirits: A distilled grape brandy known as pisco.
Yet most don’t come for vineyard views and heady booze, but rather to relish in cosmic vibrations at the electromagnetic center of the Earth.
Since a pair of Tibetan monks arrived in the 1970s, Elqui has become a playground for new age spiritualists. Reiki and meditation retreats are commonplace, while wacky ufologists rule the roost.
Not into the spiritual stuff? Well, peer up into the heavens anyway, because Elqui boasts some of the best stargazing on Earth.
Santiago may be the cosmopolitan capital of the country, but it won’t be winning a beauty pageant any time soon. For a more colorful city with a distinct bohemian flair, veer east to the port of Valparaíso.
Comprised of a collection of steep cerros (hills), Valparaíso is famed for its vibrant street art scene. Colorful creations abound, with the best murals adorning the buzzing Templeman Street.
When you’re finished exploring this remarkable open-air museum, jump on the city cable car to take in some sweeping coastal views.
More of a beach bum? The adjacent resort town of Viña del Mar is positively buzzing during the warmer summer months.
The central wine-growing valley
Those who don’t come to Chile for adventure come for the wine. And while travelers can sample world-class vino anywhere in the country, a visit to the central wine-growing valley is a must for the committed oenophile.
Stretching from the lowland Pacific plains to the crest of the Andes, Chile’s burgeoning wine industry occupies an expanse across various climatic zones.
Obviously, you’ll need to visit a vineyard or two to sample the good stuff straight from the source.
Concha y Toro is the biggest producer in Latin America, while Loma Larga is a great place to sample the crisp whites of the famed Casablanca Valley on the Pacific Coast.
The lake district
Famous for its crystalline waters and lushly forested hiking trails, Chile’s gorgeous lake district is brimming with adventure for the outdoor enthusiast.
Most base themselves in the sleepy village of Pucón, where the sinister Villarrica Volcano beckons travelers to summit its smoldering peak.
Elsewhere in the region, hiking and camping infrastructure abounds. For the culture vulture, migrant settlements such as Puerto Varas passionately cling to their Germanic roots.
A short ferry ride from mainland lies Chiloé, a rainy island that constitutes Chile’s strangest tourist attraction. Eerie myths and legends define the culture of this isolated isle. Meanwhile, green rolling hills unfurl under an overcast sky to enhance the unnerving vibe.
Some come to Chiloé to sample a bounty of fresh seafood. Nevertheless, its array of ancient Jesuit churches are the region’s most heavenly drawcard.
These impressive UNESCO-listed wooden edifices are intricately decorated in the prized Chilota architectural style. Each features a unique color scheme initially intended to help seafaring fishermen find their way.
The Carretera Austral
For a true off-the-beaten-path adventure, hitchhike down the remote Carretera Austral towards the Argentine border on the southern edge of the lake district.
None other than loggers and local farmers call this isolated area home, except exotic Patagonian wildlife.
National parks are plentiful and refreshingly uncrowded, meaning outdoorsy types can hike and camp to their heart’s content in blissful solitude.
Keep an eye out for the highly anticipated Route of Parks, which will connect 17 new or expanded parklands along the highway in the coming years.
The southern fjords
Rather than flying towards Chile’s southern tip, landscape loving travelers opt to cruise the maze of rivers and glacial lakes of the southern fjords instead.
Most do so on a rustic Navimag ferry, a cargo vessel-come-cruise ship that plies these icy waters twice per week.
En route, pods of majestic dolphins and whales bounce between the waves to a backdrop of creaking glaciers and pristine pines.
Torres del Paine
No trekker would dare visit Chile without doing a circuit of Torres del Paine, a striking national park that encapsulates the true essence of this wilderness realm.
With its glacial lakes, forested valleys and craggy snowcapped peaks, hiking Torres del Paine is the quintessential Patagonian experience. Just ask the army of excitable trekkers who descend upon the park each year in droves.
Plush lodges accommodate the well-to-do, while fully-equipped camping grounds house everyone else on this unforgettable five- to eight-day trek.
Chile has no shortage of natural splendor due to its multitude of national parks the government and citizens passionately work together to conserve.
And with such heavily developed tourism infrastructure in place, visiting this remarkable country is easily accessible to the everyday traveler.
Indeed, the only difficulty you’re likely to face is trying to comprehend that wacky dialect of Chilean Spanish.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.