When I backpacked South America, one country I found difficult to plan was Chile. While I had heard they had great wine, adventurous hikes and beautiful landscapes, I had no idea where to actually go and what to actually do. After traveling through the country, I now realize there are way too many worthwhile experiences to have to narrow it down into just one list. However, these are 10 I think everyone should try to incorporate into a trip to the country.
Have a favorite destination or experience in Chile? Share it in the comments below.
Sandboarding In Death Valley/Hiking In Moon Valley
While these are technically two different experiences, you can book a tour in San Pedro de Atacama that allows you to do both in one day. Death Valley is surreal, with gigantic sand dunes and unworldly rock formations. In fact, the site looks so out of this world, many people say it resembles Mars. The basically barren landscape and dry climate is also similar to the red planet. NASA scientists and university researchers go there to test outer space equipment and hypotheses. Moon Valley is also bizarre, with jagged mountains covered in salt, stone and sand formations carved by water and wind, mysterious caves and dry saline-coated lakes. Because of its lunar appearance, a Mars rover was once tested there by scientists.The only company I saw offering the combination tour for both destinations with sandboarding was Atacama Inca Tour. For 12,000 Chilean Pesos (about $25), plus 2,000 $CLP (about $4) to enter Moon Valley, you get transportation, a sandboarding lesson and about two hours of sandboarding, a tour of the Chulacao Caves, which are covered in edible salt, an uphill trek to a viewpoint in Moon Valley to sip Pisco Sour while watching the sunset and a free DVD of the afternoon.
Explore Chile’s Lake District
When visiting Chile’s Lake District, you’ll be surrounded by more than just lakes. The area extends throughout a 210-mile stretch between Temuco and Puerto Montt, and features numerous activities in a world of natural beauty. Along with 12 major lakes, there is also larch forest, jagged peaks, serene waterfalls, green valleys, snow-capped volcanoes and many opportunities for cultural interaction through traditional folklore and indigenous handicraft markets. For many reasons, the destination is often compared to Switzerland. Both have similar landscapes, as well as cultural diversity. While Switzerland has four official languages, Chile’s Lake District was settled by Germans in the 19th century and also has a still existent native Mapuche culture. Make sure to visit Lago Llanquihue, one of South America’s largest lakes with an amazing scene of colors, mountains and volcanoes. For some deep relaxation, visit the geothermal pools at Termas Geometricas. The attraction features a red-planked walkway of slate-covered hot and cold thermal water pools. You’ll also see rivers, waterfalls and canyons. For some, adventure, hiking, biking and rafting are popular modes of transport for exploring Chile’s Lake District.
Go Back In Time On Easter Island
Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not only one of the most isolated travel destinations on Earth, it’s also one of the planet’s most sacred sites. Once in Chile, you can take a flight from Santiago to reach the destination. Most people know the Chilean Polynesian island for its moai, large, personified stone monoliths with very large features. They were created by the Rapa Nui people between the years 1250 and 1500, and average 13 feet in height and 14 tons. While the architecture is impressive – especially given the time period they were built in – the mystery behind why these structures were constructed still remains a mystery. It is believed the moai were built to honor ancestors or another important group of people; however, the Rapa Nui left behind no oral or written history. Popular ways to view the statues are via horseback riding, renting a jeep or car or biking, although the many potholes and unpaved roads making cycling a bit difficult. Other worthwhile activities on Easter Island include scuba diving, snorkeling, relaxing on the beach and visiting volcanic craters where you can see the rock that created the moai carvings.
Climb The Highest Volcano In The World
At 22,615 feet in elevation, Nevado Ojos del Salado (“Source of the Salt River” summit) is the highest volcano in the world. It’s located on the Chile-Argentina border, and can be accessed via Copiapó, Chile. When making your way up the enormous stratovolcano, you’ll be able to hike most of the way, although a bit of scrambling is necessary towards the top. Additionally, once you reach 20,960 feet on the eastern side of Ojos del Salado, you’ll see what is said to be the world’s highest lake. Wondering if it’s active? The last eruption was in 1993, leading scientists to believe there is a possibility it still is.
If you’re interested in doing a longer excursion and scaling multiple volcanoes, the companies Andes Mountain and Amity Tours offer 13- and 14-day trips.
Hike In Patagonia Via The “W Circuit” In Torres del Paine National Park
Whether you hike this circuit or just visit the national park on a tour, seeing the bizarre scenery of Torres del Paine is a must when in Chile. The entire time I was there I felt as though I were in the most beautiful Tim Burton film ever created, with animal skulls and twisted roots in front of a snow peaked background, and jagged rock formations and pointy pink mountain spires coming together with shimmering glaciers and colorful skies. The “W Circuit” will allow you to see some of the best views in the park. It takes about three to six days, with the highlights being beautiful lakes, the French Valley and the iconic Towers of Paine, enormous granite monoliths shaped by glacial ice. Note that the hike can be challenging for some, especially due to common strong winds and rough terrain.
Travel Underground In The Largest Open Pit Copper Mine In The World
In the north of Chile you’ll find Antofagasta, home to Chuquicamata, the largest open pit copper mine by excavated volume in the world. Its open pit is 14,108 feet long, 9,843 feet wide and 2,953 feet deep. Despite being exploited for over 90 years, the mine still manages to be one of the largest known copper resources on Earth. In fact, copper is one of Chile’s major exports. Codelco, the official owner of the mine, requires visitors to take a free guided tour if they want to visit. You can choose between English or Spanish, and can contact them at email@example.com or +56 55 322122 to make a reservation.
Get To Know History And Culture In Santiago
Santiago is Chile’s capital, and a great home base for exploring nearby areas like the Casablanca Wine Valley, beautiful beaches and the Andes Mountains. You’ll learn a lot just from hanging out in Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square. Here you’ll find the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, a church as well as a national monument. You’ll also get a firsthand look at the influence of Peruvian immigrants through ethnic food, shops and recreation. Additionally, the city is home to many beautiful parks, like Parque Metropolitano, home to San Cristobal Hill, which offers excellent city views and Parque Forestal, home to the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Modern Art Museum. Moreover, cultural establishments like the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Presidential Palace, and various cultural centers will give you a wealth of insight into Chile’s heritage. You should also stop by the Church and Museum of San Francisco, the oldest church in the city. Here, you’ll also be able to see a monolith from Easter Island.
Go Scuba Diving On Robinson Crusoe Island
Robinson Crusoe island, part of the archipelago of Juan Fernandez, is a national park as well as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. This volcanic island of rugged mountain is often described as a deserted area of unspoiled beauty, and for good reason. Both on and off land, the island offers one of the most endemic ecosystems in the world. Furthermore, it features warm, crystal clear water, perfect for scuba diving and submarine hunting. You’ll see a diverse array of marine life, including vidriola, rock salmon, moray, pampanito, corvina, breca and more. You can access the island via a flight from Santiago.
Cross The Strait of Magellan To See Penguins On Isla Magdalena
You can take a ferry from Punta Arenas and arrive on Isla Magdalena, where you’ll see thriving groups of Magellanic penguins. This is where Chile’s largest penguin colonies reside. It is said there are about 60,000 breeding pairs. It’s not surprising this island is the main part of the Penguins Natural Monument. There is a big hill with a lighthouse on top, where most visitors climb to begin their photo taking. If you’d like a tour, Adventure Life offers an excursion to the island via a high-speed zodiac.
Go Wine Tasting In Casablanca Valley
Wine is one of Chile’s biggest industries, and the country is a major exporter of wine. Casablanca Valley is located just 45-minutes outside Santiago. The first vine was planted in the region in the mid-1980s, and quickly made a mark in Chile’s history becoming the first cool-climate coastal region to produce wines. The maritime, foggy mornings and cool Mediterranean climate greatly influence the grapes, which produce crisp, flavorful, aromatic wines. The three major varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although high quality Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer can also be found. Because it can be a bit tedious to get to, many people either hire a driver or stay the night in Casablanca. Other popular wine valleys to visit include Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley, San Antonio Valley and Aconcagua Valley. If you’re interested in touring one or more of these regions, Ecotours Chile and Uncorked offer excellent excursions.
[Images via Jessie on a Journey, Anetode, Jessie on a Journey, Metaforico, Hector Garcia]