Chile is a symphony of natural attractions, from the glacial fields at the southern tip of Patagonia where the mantra is “those who hurry waste their time” to the windswept dunes of the Atacama Desert in the north. This long, narrow country on the western edge of South America is characterized by diverse and abundant natural beauty. Swoosh Chile’s longest ski trails in Chillán, admire the wooden churches and colorful palafitos of Chiloé Island, or fly fish wild rivers for trout in the shadow of towering mountain peaks in Coyhaique. Explore your artistic side in Valparaiso, Chile’s “jewel of the Pacific” and home of national poet Pablo Neruda. A world of magic awaits in these 25 Chilean destinations.
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Santiago is both the largest city and the capital of Chile, a place often overlooked by travelers as a mere stop on the way to other cities within the country. This, however, is a mistake as Santiago is a booming metropolis featuring impressive views of mountainous terrain. Worldly, cosmopolitan, lively, and sophisticated are descriptors of the city’s expansive cultural scene, buzzing nightlife, thought-provoking museums, and top-tier restaurants. Each area of the city offers visitors something different, from the architecture, museums, and pedestrian malls of the Centro to the beer halls, cafes, and sidewalk eateries of Lastarria. Neighborhoods like Las Condes and Providencia offer world-class hotels and restaurants.
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2.Laguna San Rafael National Park
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Laguna San Rafael National Park is the largest in Aysen at a whopping 3,832,400 acres. It includes all of the Northern Patagonian Ice Fields, where numerous lakes and rivers are created. It is also home to the highest peak in the Southern Andes, Mount San Valentin. The ice field stretches over San Valentin and the neighboring hills, creating 19 glaciers, the most remarkable of which is the San Rafael Glacier, hence the park’s name. One of the highlights to the park, and an extraordinary sight to behold, are the blocks of ice that break off the glaciers and fall into the lake with a deafening boom.
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3.Robinson Crusoe Island
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Robertson Crusoe Island is a magical place where coastal cliffs, soothing waters, and lush native vegetation create an oasis of beauty and activity. It is commonly known as the Desert Island, providing a lonely atmosphere cushioned by the Pacific Ocean, a naturalist’s dreamland. There are a number of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed here, such as swimming in crystal-clear waters or diving underwater to explore the marine life alongside South American fur seals, the indigenous species of the Biosphere Reserve. Sailing, kayaking, and fishing are all common here, as is trekking on paths through unspoiled areas like Puntas de Isla, Centinela Hill, and Puerto Francis.
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4.Torres del Paine National Park
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Torres del Paine National Park is situated at the southern point of the Chilean Andes. It is one of the most distinguishable sights in the Southern Hemisphere and well-known for its world-class trekking routes. It’s most favored hiking paths include the Paine Circuit and the W Trek. The park is made up of glaciers, forests, rivers, lakes, and fjords and is home to various native animals, including pumas, guanacos, foxes, and several species of birds. Popular attractions within the park include the Paine Towers, the French Valley, Los Cuernos, and the Grey Glacier.
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Osorno is the capital city of the Osorno Province, situated at the juncture of the Damas River and Rahue. Its natural beauty is created by the Rahue River, which cuts through its center running north to south with a smaller stream that breaks off to the east before heading south. The city’s highlight is the Volcan Osorno, an active yet slight volcano just outside the city that can be seen from anywhere within the town. The city is also architecturally beautiful, with sights such as Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral of Saint Matthew. The main attractions are the Osorno Rodeo Stadium and Plaza Sol de los Lagos, a recently opened casino.
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Antofagasta is not so much an in-demand Chilean travel destination as a convenient and restful place to relax for a day or two between other attractions. As a coastal city, it has the requisite white sand beaches nearby with areas of calm water for families with small children and areas of waves for surf and body boarders. Barrio Histórico is worth a look for the architecture. The main tourist attractions are not in the city itself, but in the surrounding region, including the 140-foot-high La Portada Natural Monument, Atacama Desert, Mano del Desierto (Hand of the Desert) sculpture, and Atacama Solar.
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Arica is Chile’s northernmost beach town. Its perfect weather is ideal for watersports of all kinds, including swimming, wind surfing, surfing, scuba diving, sport fishing, and paragliding. Visitors who manage to pull themselves away from the beach will be rewarded with miles of hiking, mountain biking, trekking, wildlife and bird watching, and jeep racing. Visitors looking for a more cultural experience will appreciate the Chinchorro Mummy Museum, the Morro de Arica, the museum of history and culture, and the Archaeological Museum of San Miguel de Azapa. Lauca National Park features abundant wildlife, including vicuña, alpacas, and flamingos, the wetlands of the Cotacotani Lagoon, and views of snow-capped volcanoes.
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The best place to start an exploration of Caldera is at the refurbished 1850 train station that was the end of the line for South America’s first railroad and is now the Centro Cultural Estación Caldera housing Caldera’s Paleontological Museum and a tourism information center. The Casa Museo Tornini guided tour is a cultural must-do. Caldera is a commercial port whose primary activity supports the Chilean wine industry; portside benches are good places to sit and watch the active port. The beaches at this port city are long and the water is calm, making it a good choice for some family beach time with the little ones. It’s also great for kayaking.
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Earthquake-battered Chillán is in a near constant state of rebuilding. Consequently, it’s one of Chile’s most modern cities. Highlights include the modern St. Charles Borromeo Cathedral and its 36-meter-tall cross, Plaza de Armas, Arauco pedestrian promenade, the famous Market of Chillán, the handicraft market, and the Siqueiros murals. Chillán is a hub for exploring the beauty of Central Chile outside the city as well. The Chillán Hot Springs, Las Trancas Valley, and Pangue Cave are great for outdoor exploring. During winter, visitors make their ways to Las Tres Marías, Chile’s longest ski trails, and during summer, Shangri-La Ecopark provides the entertainment.
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Chiloé Island is the biggest island of the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile. It’s known for its 150 iconic 17th and 18th-century wooden churches – 16 of which are World Heritage Sites. Also unique to the island architecture are the palafitos, colorful houses on stilts that dot the water’s edge; they’re best seen in Castro. The independent islanders have a long seafaring history and a rich culture based on a mythology that embraces witchcraft and forest creatures; the best place to learn about it is the Ancud Regional Museum. At the island’s center lies Chiloé National Park, where visitors can explore the rivers, lakes, forests, and beaches, as well as experience the magic of traditional Huilliche communities.
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Concepción is best known for music. Here, visitors will find emerging musicians on nearly every street corner. A university town, cultural offerings abound, including the Art House, which features “Presence of America,” a mural depicting Latin America’s independence. Caracol Hill and Ecuador Park offer visitors lush walking paths and dramatic views. Those with a keen interest in cosmovision will appreciate the Arauco territory, where it’s still practiced by the Mapuche people, both in their traditional huts and in the surrounding forests. Buchupureo is the place to be for beaches and country life, while winter sports enthusiasts will find their utopia at the Chillan Ski Resort.
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Copiapó is a quiet mining town in the Atacama Desert where visitors will find a few points of interest, including the Mineralogic Museum, the Wooden Railway Station, and the Regional Museum of the Matta Family. The bigger draw is what lies outside the city, in the Copiapó Valley. Travelers to the valley will want to visit Pan de Azúcar National Park. The park has archaeological sites, beaches, trekking and mountain biking trails, and abundant wildlife. The white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Bahía Inglesa, the desert spring bloom, and Nevado Tres Cruces National Park with its salt flats and Verde Lagoon are also popular attractions. Adventurous types will appreciate mountaineering on Ojos del Salado Volcano.
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Patagonia is where travelers go to get in touch with their wild side, and Coyhaique is at the heart of it. The most popular place to visit in Coyhaique is the main square, where there are handmade products representing the craftsmanship and materials of the area. Outside Coyhaique is where the magic happens, from mountain climbing the Mackay or Castillo to fly fishing for trout on Rio Ñirehuao. Natural must-see places here include Queulat National Park – birthplace of the evergreen forest, the lush valleys of the Simpson River National Reserve, the world’s third largest ice field at Campos de Hielo Norte, and General Carrera Lake – Chile’s largest lake.
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Frutillar could be correctly dubbed the German town of Chile. Sitting on the western bank of Llanquihue Lake, the well-preserved German-style wooden buildings in the shadow of the Osorno Volcano speak to its colonial past. Visitors can take a scenic tour of the lake with impressive views of Osorno and also the Calbuco Volcano. Frutillar is home to Teatro del Lago, a lakeside concert hall that hosts international orchestras, artists, and the highly touted annual Semanas Musicales de Frutillar – a classical music fest. Philippi Street is where the culinary action is with its tea rooms, emporiums, and restaurants. Nature lovers can explore Alerce Andino and Vincente Pérez Rosales National Parks.
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Iquique, located in Northern Chile, is known for being one of the best beach resort areas in the country, with numerous pristine sandy beaches. Its waters are famous for having some of the best surf in the world. The area also boasts a prominent duty free zone named Zofri, selling everything from perfumes to laptops. Iquique features stunning beautifully restored and preserved 19th-century Georgian-style architecture, a beachfront boardwalk, and a glitzy casino. Baquedano Street is a highlight of the area with its Old Western-style charm lined with artisan and tourist activities. Visitors will also find paragliding and sand-boarding opportunities as well as several historic sites.
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La Serena is the capital city of Region IV, the second oldest city in Chile. It offers visitors the warmth of its desert climate and the beauty from its nearness to the fruitful land of the central valley. This area boasts a magnificent long golden shoreline, stunning neocolonial and colonial era architecture, and valleys filled with succulent grapes used to produce piscos and wines. When walking through downtown La Serena, visitors will find gorgeous plazas, tree-lined avenues, and stately stone churches. Recova, a premier market in the city, is ideal for shopping for unique wares. International astronomical observatories, sport fishing, parasailing, surfing, and trekking are additional popular attractions and activities.
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Pucon is situated at the base of the Villarrica Volcano, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The urban center sits on the southern shores of Lake Villarrica, where visitors will find various cultural tours. The entire area is filled with natural beauty and interesting attractions and activities to match. It is home to both the Huerquehe and Villarrica National Parks, the latter of which is where travelers will experience the 9,500-foot-high Villarrica Volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanos. During the summer visitors can climb to its crater, and during the winter they can join in winter sports on its slopes. Horseback riding, mountaineering, fly fishing, and various water sporting activities are all popular here.
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Puerto Montt is a natural oasis and the capital city of the Los Lagos Region, known for its rainforests, estuaries, lakes, islands, and volcanoes. The estuary, Reloncavi, is a well-known area surrounding several small towns and colorful harbors that feature a wealth of attractions. Visitors can take ferry rides on the waterways, which offer stunning views of snow-capped volcanos. Fish and seafood, especially salmon, is a huge part of the Puerto Montt culture. The Seafood and Fish Market is the popular go-to place for a wide range of sea delicacies. Angelmo Cove, Tenglo Island, and Alerce Andino National Park are additional must-see sights.
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Puerto Natales is the gateway to the iconic Torres del Paine National Park. Its rustic rancher ambiance sets the scene for a rapidly growing adventure activity hub. Visitors can find an array of activities to join in, whether it be by land or by sea. Among the top choices are climbing the Dorotea Hill, which looks down upon all of Puerto Natales, and trekking through Milodon Cave. The cave showcases the history of the giant Mylodon sloth, which inhabited the area until its extinction 5,000 years ago. Sailing through the Ultima Esperanza fjord, where passing magnificent glaciers is commonplace, or kayaking at sunset are just a couple of the city’s mesmerizing activities.
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Puerto Varas is located in the Los Lagos region on the banks of Lake Llanquihue. It is known as the “City of Roses and Volcanoes” due to its magnificent squares featuring an abundance of roses and as the home of volcanoes Calbuco, Osorno, Cerro Tronador, and Puntiagudo. The areas natural landscape also boasts beautiful sights such as the Perez Rosales National Park, Petrohue Falls, and Lake Todos los Santos. The Osorno Volcano Ski Center is a popular attraction ideal for winter-sporting activities. Horseback riding, hiking, mountain climbing, volcano climbing, rafting, and fishing are all popular activities in the area. German-style architecture and traditional European food can be found in the Typical Zone.
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Punta Arenas is located in the Magallanes Region and is the world’s southernmost continental city. It is known for its social, cultural, and commercial development as well as its status as a tax-free zone, making it a premier destination for tourists. There is much to do in the city, where the climate swings from long and sunny summer days to snowy white winters. Visitors can choose from an array of tours like a natural retreat, where humpback whales spend one of their seasons, or horseback riding Mount Fenton. Cultural attractions include the Maggiorino Borgatello Salesian Museum, Munoz Gamero Square, and the Shepherd’s Monument.
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22.San Pedro de Atacama
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San Pedro de Atacama is a tourist hotspot due to its otherworldly landscapes, where the people in this region believe the high amounts of copper and quartz give them positive energy. Surrounded by gorgeous red-brick foothills and situated in the center of some of the most magnificent scenery in northern Chile, it’s edged with volcanos and just a quick drive away from the largest salt flat in the country. It also features interesting rock formations, steaming geysers, and other unique tiered landscapes. Its natural beauty makes it a tour haven with dozens of options to choose from, like Laguna Cejar, Tebinquiche Lagoon, and the El Tatio Geysers.
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Temuco is located in the La Araucania region; it was the last stronghold of the Mapuche people after the arrival of the Europeans. Temuco is one of the largest cities in the region, with several cultural attractions that depict its rich historical and natural history. These include the Araucania Regional Museum and the Pablo Neruda Railway National Museum. The municipal market is another huge draw, displaying the local culture through diverse dishes. Various National Parks, mountains, and volcanos reside just outside the city, offering visitors a wealth of outdoor excursions. There are various cultural tours to places such as the District of Nueva Imperial, Port Saavedra, and Lake Budi.
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Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well known as “the jewel of the Pacific” due to the natural splendor of 45 mountain peaks that surround it and abruptly fall into the sea. Its historical traditions, arts, and architecture add to its glory. Valparaiso has inspired renowned musicians, architects, craftsmen, and writers due to the beauty of its colorful scenery. Among its incredible attractions are Prat Pier, La Sebastiana, a museum and former home of poet Pablo Neruda, and Barrio del Puerto, which features fishing activities, handicrafts, architecturally lovely churches, and amazing restaurants filled with history.
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25.Vina del Mar
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Glamorous Vina del Mar is a diverse city with numerous cultural and natural attractions as well as an array of outdoor activities. A variety of 5-star hotels, hostels, discotheques, exceptional eateries, and several tour opportunities can be found here. Its city center was constructed around the iconic Valparaiso Street and Jose Francisco Vergara Square, a stunning promenade where medieval-style buildings such as Wulff Castle can be seen. There are two incredible beaches – Acapulco and Sol, excellent shopping opportunities on San Martin Boulevard, various museums, and numerous national monuments. The Quinta Vergara Amphitheater, Sausalito Lagoon, and the Botanical Garden are three sights that shouldn’t be missed.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Chile
- Santiago, Photo: Courtesy of MaciejBledowski - Fotolia.com
- Laguna San Rafael National Park, Photo: Courtesy of michalknitl - Fotolia.com
- Robinson Crusoe Island, Photo: Courtesy of JeremyRichards - Fotolia.com
- Torres del Paine National Park, Photo: Courtesy of davidionut - Fotolia.com
- Osorno, Photo: Courtesy of pablo - Fotolia.com
- Antofagasta, Photo: Courtesy of Christian - Fotolia.com
- Arica, Photo: Courtesy of Adwo - Fotolia.com
- Caldera, Photo: Courtesy of rjzavala - Fotolia.com
- Chillan, Photo: Courtesy of Jdubsvideo - Fotolia.com
- Chiloe Island, Photo: Courtesy of NoraDoa - Fotolia.com
- Concepcion, Photo: Courtesy of NoraDoa - Fotolia.com
- Copiapo Valley, Photo: Courtesy of Christian - Fotolia.com
- Coyhaique, Photo: Courtesy of sunsinger - Fotolia.com
- Frutillar, Photo: Courtesy of Matyas Rehak - Fotolia.com
- Iquique, Photo: Courtesy of Tifonimages - Fotolia.com
- La Serena, Photo: Courtesy of Elisa Locci - Fotolia.com
- Pucon, Photo: Courtesy of wemm - Fotolia.com
- Puerto Montt, Photo: Courtesy of Matyas Rehak - Fotolia.com
- Puerto Natales, Photo: Courtesy of Kseniya Ragozina - Fotolia.com
- Puerto Varas, Photo: Courtesy of NoraDoa - Fotolia.com
- Punta Arenas, Photo: Courtesy of Ekaterina Pokrovsky - Fotolia.com
- San Pedro de Atacama, Photo: Courtesy of henryn0580 - Fotolia.com
- Temuco, Photo: Courtesy of NoraDoa - Fotolia.com
- Valparaiso, Photo: Courtesy of adonis_abril - Fotolia.com
- Vina del Mar, Photo: Courtesy of brizardh - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of jkraft5 - Fotolia.com